First of all, what is open carry?
- Open carry is the carrying of a firearm that is visible and unhidden. More aptly stated, it is the exact opposite of concealed carry.
- Open carry involves the use of a holster that keeps the firearm in plain view.
- Open carry is usually the carrying of a pistol, some states prohibit carry rifles even if slung.
- Open carry is legal in a majority of the states, though there are some places where local laws will come into play.
- Open carry may be the only option for people that do not have a concealed carry permit or cannot get one (usually due to age).
- Open carry is much more physically comfortable than concealed carry in most cases.
- Most importantly, Open carry is a statement. By open carrying, you are declaring that you are a gun owner, that you are not dangerous and that you are not ashamed. You will receive extra scrutiny because of your decision, expect it and be prepared with facts and knowledge. Your carrying openly makes you a representative of the entire shooting world, with one simple statement you could create a new shooter, or you could drive someone away from the sport.
- Open carry is not for everyone
- Open carry is not brandishing. In most states open carry is completely legal.
- Open carry does not mean that you can walk around with a gun in your hand.
- Open carry does not make you a bad ass.
- Open carry is not any more likely to make you a target in a robbery than a gold watch.
- Open carry most likely will not get you in legal trouble.
- Open carry does not make you special or better than anyone else.
- Open carry is not a magnet for people to come up behind you and try to steal your gun. Think about that for a second, how brazen would you have to be to try to take a lethal weapon away from someone?
- Usually nothing. People are generally used to seeing objects attached to other people's belts, so most of the time it goes unnoticed.
The trick is, what you are doing when you are openly carrying is perfectly legal. The likelihood of you being arrested and actually charged or convicted of a crime is very low. In most situations where a law abiding gun owner is harassed by law enforcement for open carrying, the reason for the harassment is because the individual LEO does not know the laws pertaining to open carry. The other reason that people commonly get harassed by law enforcement for open carrying is that the officer believes that it isn't something you should do. We will get into LEO encounters in a bit.
Knowledge is your friend:
Here in NC, I have been informed that the open carry statutes are clearly discussed in the basic law enforcement training courses that all LEO's go through, but your mileage may vary. Having knowledge of the relevant laws in your area will go a long way in ensuring that you have a trouble free experience.
Another consideration is that the general public typically does not have any idea of the laws in their area. One of the most common things I hear about when it comes to open carry encounters is that someone gets asked "Do you have a permit for that?"
This is a teaching experience, in most cases the proper response will be "No I do not, no permit is required unless it is concealed." (Please keep in mind, some states DO require a permit to open carry.) Now, usually the conversation will stop right there, but occasionally that statement will open the flood gates for more questions.
Things like "Is it loaded?", "Why do you carry that?", "Why do you need a gun?", "Are you that worried about getting robbed?", "Are you looking to get into trouble?" And on and on.
Remember that the person asking these questions just had reality slap them in the face. They may have lived their entire life thinking that only criminals and cops carry guns. They might be someone that has always wanted to learn more about guns but wasn't sure where to start. They might also be someone that has serious anti-gun feelings. Again, be prepared to strike up discussion with these people. Use facts and laws instead of emotions.
You will also have people make comments to you and about you. Things like "I would never carry a gun.", "I don't believe in guns.", "Guns are too dangerous." etc... My typical response will be something along the lines of "Well, unfortunately for you, a criminal that might be looking to make you his next victim will not care one iota about your personal feelings about guns."
Give it some thought and come up with some good ways to respond to people. My favorite response to the question "Why do you need a gun?" is very clear. "I would rather live my entire life knowing that when I was forced to defend my family I was able to do so. Than to live my entire life knowing that I might have been able to save my family and I didn't." To anyone that has a family, that is a very powerful thought to have to chew on.
A few days ago a friend of mine started in on his kick that guns aren't needed to solve problems. In his words "Be a real man, use your fists." Now in the real world, cocky people that think they can handle a fight get killed quickly. Usually when their attacker pulls out a gun. All of us in the gun world know and embrace this philosophy, but non-gun owners may not have ever given it any thought. My response to him was simple. "You have a fire extinguisher in your house don't you? Or are you man enough to simply use your fists?"
Do not let this dissuade you from open carrying, just realize that you will be representing the shooting community as a whole. If that is not something you can handle, then don't open carry. Most importantly, with any encounter that you have, you must remain calm, cool and collected.
Know your laws:
As gun owners, we typically pride ourselves in being as law abiding as possible. Because of this, it is of the up most importance that you know every law that is relevant to your situation. Cities, counties can and sometimes do have differing laws so something that is legal in one city may not be in the next city. For example, here in NC there is only one city that has a carry ordinance. In that city, openly carrying a firearm with a barrel shorter than 4 inches is illegal.
Also make sure you know what places are prohibited places. Again these laws can and do different between city to city. There are the usual places where all weapons are prohibited. Post offices, federal buildings, schools (in most states) are all prohibited by federal law. Most states also restrict state buildings, banks and bars. Now here is where the interesting thing comes into play. What is prohibited for concealed carry may not be prohibited for open carry. For example, here in NC it is illegal to conceal carry into a bank, but open carry is permitted.
It is your responsibility to know the laws in the areas you will be in. If you do not know the laws, you risk going to jail, and that would be counterproductive.
Sign postings are the bane of every gun carrier. In almost every state there is some legal provision that allows property owners or businesses to post signs prohibiting the possession of weapons. In some states, those signs carry legal weight and not obeying them is a crime. In other states, the signs carry no legal weight, but if the owner asks you to leave, you must or you are trespassing. In other states if the sign isn't a specific size or doesn't have specific wording, it is invalid. It is worth noting that if a sign says "no concealed weapons" then openly carrying is not a violation of that sign.
Now, with few exceptions, most places do not post signs. I have personally carried openly into multiple gas stations, two different Wal-Mart stores, several restaurants and various other places. I have never once had a problem or even had someone say anything to me. Should I ever get approached by a store employee, I would ask for the manager. If the manager asked me to leave, I would comply and then I would notify the general manager and owner of my intentions to stop shopping at their establishment. There are several places on the internet that you can get form style letters that will fit your situation, check the links below. These letters do work, usually business owners can see reason when they are clearly informed about how law abiding gun owners really are.
Dealing with law enforcement:
Every person will eventually have a run in with a law enforcement officer. In some places these incidents will go much more smoothly than in others. Generally speaking, if you are not breaking the law you are fine. But you need to know the laws so that you know what your rights are. In most states, openly carrying a firearm is not a valid reason to detain you. You must be suspected of committing a crime, and openly carrying a firearm is not illegal.
Should you encounter a LEO, do not freak out, remember, you are not breaking the law. You should expect that the LEO will take your weapon and secure it for his own safety. You can also probably expect to get a quick pat down. Typically, the LEO is responding to a "man with a gun call" where some soccer mom saw you with a holstered gun and freaked out, calling the cops all hysterical about seeing a man with a gun. Remember, the LEO does not know the situation he is walking in to and has to assume the worst. There is no need to make his job harder.
After the initial encounter, which will probably include you being disarmed, asking "Am I being detained?" is a good thing to do. If the officer answers to the affirmative, then the next question should be "Of what crime am I suspected of committing?". If there is no clear answers to those two questions, then there is no valid reason for the LEO to continue to give you a hard time or to ask you further questions. You are free to go at that point.
Some states and/or jurisdictions have had cases in the past where officers have seized firearms without making an arrest, should that happen to you, don't freak out, demand that you get issued a receipt. If you are given a hard time about this or are told that your firearm is being seized permanently, contact a lawyer. You do have a constitutional right to be secure in your person and possessions and anyone that deprives you of that right without due process can be held liable for civil rights violations.
Again as with all encounters, you must remain calm, cool and collected.
Finally, I will go into some more personal things.
Why open carry?
Ok, I open carry for several reasons. First and foremost, I am a huge supporter of the second amendment. I feel that the second amendment is one of the very foundations of our society. And since the courts have ruled that states may regulate how concealed permits are issued from state, open carry is the one fundamental part that we have left of the whole "and bear arms" portion of the second amendment. Hopefully this weeks Supreme Court ruling will change that, but I doubt it.
Because of my beliefs, I am driven to advocate for what I believe in. In my experience wearing Glock T-shirts or Beretta hats does not work as well as wearing a gun. Gun related clothing is actually much more likely elicit a negative response from people than wearing a gun is. I suspect that people are much more likely to be impolite when they do not know for a fact that you are armed. I do not think of this as intentional intimidation on my part, but as the old saying goes; "An armed society is a polite society."
Lastly I open carry because to me it is much more comfortable than trying to conceal a 26Oz. hunk of metal and plastic. Plus, when I am carrying openly, there is no need for me to worry about who might see that I am armed. I have noticed that I am much more aware of my surroundings and the people that are near me. I suspect that it will be the same situation once I have my concealed carry permit, but since that will not happen for a few more months, I am left to open carry.
For a lot more information, advice, questions about the laws in your area and a good discussion forum to boot, check out www.opencarry.org
I hope this has been an entertaining and helpful read.