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Openly Carrying Guns Can Be Unwise, Even When It’s Legal

Gun owners should think hard about whether it serves our best interests to offend and disturb our neighbors.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

October 25, 2009 - 12:00 am

I recently wrote an article for Shotgun News making the argument that while open carry of firearms is legal in many American cities, it may not be particularly wise. Open carry in a number of states is not just legal, but protected by the state constitution. But just because something is legal, even constitutionally protected, doesn’t mean that it is wise.

Carrying a gun openly in a city can — and does — offend people who might not have a strong opinion one way or the other about gun control. Boise, Idaho, is about as pro-gun as any big city in the United States. But open carry advocates decided last year to go to the Boise Zoo with openly carried handguns. It was completely legal — but the reaction of other patrons was distinctly negative.

We have a very reasonable concealed weapon permit law in Idaho (as with most states), and there are lots of Idahoans who are armed but carry their weapons concealed. I’m sure that the other patrons of the Boise Zoo know that. Yes, it is somewhat illogical to be disconcerted by seeing something in public that you know may still be all around you, but concealed. But there are a lot of areas where human beings are illogical — and pretending that you are Mr. Spock doesn’t change that human beings often respond with emotions, not logic.

Handguns and our excretory organs have something in common: we know that they are very, very common, they are necessary, and many people have them under their clothes. (See how well I cleaned up an otherwise crudely pungent comparison of body parts to opinions?) But it doesn’t mean that we all want to see them. Context is everything. In the middle of the wilderness, an openly carried firearm doesn’t cause much of a reaction. In a shooting range, we’re used to it. In an urban setting, at least in most of America, this is a bit unusual. Because of that and because we tend to wonder, “Is guy planning to be a national news headline tomorrow?” it is a little unsettling.

My article did not propose that open carry should be illegal. There are some unusual circumstances where it might be the best choice — and in some rare circumstances, in some states, it may be the only choice that you have. (Wisconsin, for example, completely prohibits concealed carry of handguns, but does allow open carry.) What I did argue is that gun owners should think long and hard about whether it serves our best interests to offend, disturb, or concern people that would prefer that we keep our guns as well hidden as our excretory organs.

I was expecting some negative reaction to that article — but I was not expecting the level of vitriol. I received one polite response, yes. But I also received a number of really angry and not very polite emails, including:

I have been a loyal SGN reader for many years and have subscribed several times.

Having read Mr. Cramer’s column on open carry, “How to Lose Friends,” this will no longer be the case. Mr. Cramer’s column should have been titled “Why We Should Be Ashamed of Our Rights.”

I will NOT be buying any further SGN magazines EVER; nor will I encourage my friends and family to do so, until and unless Mr. Cramer is FIRED publicly and SGN apologizes for his failure to support the rights of American citizens.

In the course of attempting to calm this reader down, I discovered that this poor guy feels tremendously trapped by the enormous success that the anti-gun crowd is enjoying. I have talked to a few others over the last few years who seem to think that the gun control crowd is on one continuous winning streak and that at any moment, the federal government is going to complete the final confiscation of firearms from private citizens.

The gun control movement is dangerous, in spite of their small numbers, because they exercise enormous influence over the entertainment and legal communities. But for those who haven’t been following the news: the gun control movement is in such sorry shape that if I worked in that area, I would be getting my resume up to date and looking for some other windmills to joust against.

Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.
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