The Cornered Cat
Open carry

I guess every firearms instructor in the business has an opinion about open carry these days. Will it come as a surprise to you to learn that I have one, too? (Yes, yes, I know – opinions are like noses. Everyone has one, and all of them smell.) [1]

First, a little background.

I live in Washington state. Here’s our relevant statute, RCW 9.41.270:

“(1) It shall be unlawful for any person to carry, exhibit, display, or draw any firearm, dagger, sword, knife or other cutting or stabbing instrument, club, or any other weapon apparently capable of producing bodily harm, in a manner, under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.” (Emphasis mine.)

Under this statute, open carry is legal. The courts have repeatedly found that the mere carrying of a firearm inside a visible holster does not, in and of itself, “manifest intent” to either intimidate other people, or “warrant alarm” for their safety. However, the reason the courts have repeatedly found this, is because these cases sometimes do to court. More accurately, it’s because people who open carry have gotten arrested and have had to spend money on lawyers to make the problem go away. The open carry advocates in this state have done a really good job educating law enforcement people about the statutes, and things are getting better, but the problem hasn’t entirely vanished. For this reason, in my state, when someone asks me about open carry, I recommend that they avoid open carry inside the larger cities (especially those on the wet side of the mountains) unless they are prepared to take a few days off work if something goes wrong, and unless they have a little bit of a nest egg to help cover the cost of a lawyer. If they aren’t in a place where they can do those two things, they might find that open carry here comes at too high of a personal cost.

But that’s a practical issue, and a local one. For me, I’m glad I live in a state where open carry is legal. It means the worst that could happen, if my concealment somehow fails when I’m out and about, is that I might suffer a little social embarrassment. In some states, people have gone to jail simply because their cover garment flopped open at an awkward time. That’s unacceptable. I don’t want to live in such a place, and so I know I owe a debt to open carry advocates. Their efforts to normalize firearms use and to educate law enforcement about our rights under the law have indeed paid off.

That said, I’m not a fan of rudeness. I don’t mean the rudeness of having a firearm visible and available to you during the day (that’s not rude at all), but the rudeness of being snotty, confrontational, obnoxious, or condescending when asked about it. I’m a big fan of polite activism, and I think highly of people who are good ambassadors for gun ownership.

For example, I got a big, hearty laugh out loud when I came across a blog post about tea partiers picking up the trash at an Obama appearance. Good for them! That’s one way to win friends and influence people—not the hardcore people who are set against your message from the very beginning, but the observers and bystanders who haven’t quite made up their minds yet.

The beautiful thing about online life is that there are more observers and bystanders to every event than there have ever been before. The terrible thing about online life is that when we are obnoxious, confrontational, or downright rude, our actions annoy more people than simply the ones we see standing there. Negative interactions have a life of their own, and can travel a lot further than we ever intended.

Think about the power of someone dressed appropriately who goes out of the way to be friendly, informative, and non-confrontational. If such a person does encounter a bad response from law enforcement, the good stories and positive video interactions surrounding the event means public sympathy more likely lands on the gun owner’s side. That’s a win for all of us.

So setting aside the legal ins and outs of open carry, and setting aside the political ramifications, let’s talk practicalities. If you are going to open carry, I believe you need to do two things:

1)      Get yourself a solid holster that attaches firmly to your belt and has a visible retention device; and

2)      Learn the physical skills of protecting your firearm from someone trying to grab it either out of your holster or out of your hand.

You’ll notice that these recommendations are both designed to help you avoid or defeat a gun grab. Why? Because putting a visible gun on your hip is like letting $500 cold hard cash hang out of your back pocket. If you plan to leave that much money hanging out there while you go through your day and think about other things, you should pin it in place. Don’t just leave it out there flapping in the breeze for anyone to steal.

Of course, it’s your money, so it’s your call—just as it’s your gun and your call. But my recommendation is that if you think you’d like to open carry, it’s worth your while to do it with the lowest possible level of personal risk.

[1] What, you thought I would say something vulgar? There’s no need; that’s as plain as the nose on your face.  😉

One Response to Open carry

  1. DaddyBear says:

    First rule of open carry – “Don’t be a jerk.”. When I’m going to be open carrying, I change out of the bad attitude tee shirt with “Shall not be infringed!” on it, and go on with being a polite, respectful person.

    I open carry on occasion. Kentucky, especially in the area I live and play in, is OK with firearms, and it’s not unusual to see a gun on a belt. Honestly, I’d bet that most people don’t even notice it. The few times that I’ve been asked about it, it’s usually someone who’s curious about what I’m carrying rather than someone upset by my method.

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