There is a temporary restraining order action currently active against Michigan Open Carry, Inc. for a series of open carry demonstrations that took place at the Lansing, Michigan, downtown public library. Members carried rifles and handguns — not just into the library, but into the children’s section of the library.
I have spent much of the last twenty-five years defending the right to keep and bear arms — and I have been a significant player in making this an intellectually defensible position in the courts. I know that not everyone agrees with me, and even those who agree that there is a right to carry a gun for self-defense start to get downright weak in the knees when you have someone carrying a shotgun over his shoulder into a library.
It seems that in our political system, the pendulum, having once swung way too far one direction, just has to swing too far in the other direction.
Twenty years ago, the gun control crazies looked sure to eventually achieve all their goals, including house-to-house searches to confiscate all existing handguns and many rifles. Many gun control advocates did not support such extreme measures. But the extremists on their side were just cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.
Gun control is now such an unfashionable idea that most Democrats run from it. But today the other extremists show an utter inability to understand how crazy they sound — and act.
You are probably aware that in the vast majority of American states, concealed handgun licenses are now easy to get, as long as you do not have a felony conviction, a recent violent misdemeanor conviction, or a mental illness history. In most American states, it is also legal to openly carry a firearm on your person.
In Arizona, and a few other Western states, open carry of handguns in cities is remarkable but not terribly shocking. In most of the country, it is a bit surprising or worse. Even people who are generally pro-gun do not like to see guns in cities, except on uniformed police officers and security guards. Yes, this is an irrational convention, because so many Americans have concealed carry permits. (Just because you do not see that someone is armed does not mean that they aren’t.) But it is a convention nonetheless — rather like the one that says it’s bad manners to show your genitals in public even though everyone’s got a set.
The open carry movement has two goals: one, to persuade state legislatures to repeal existing laws banning open carry; two, to “normalize” open carry. I have sympathy with the first goal, for several reasons. One is that situations come up where a person may need to be armed, and yet may not qualify for a concealed handgun license — perhaps because they are only 19 or 20, and most states require you to be at least 21.
Two, a person may not ordinarily feel a need to carry a gun for self-defense — but something happens, and there is no time to obtain a permit. You would then have to choose between breaking the law against concealed carry, or carrying a handgun openly for self-defense.
Three, picture this. You might be visiting a state that does not issue permits, or that makes it so difficult that you are unlikely to apply for a permit. Under those circumstances, it might be appropriate, under some conditions, to carry a handgun openly for self-defense. I would hope that open carry in cities would be infrequent because it is so disquieting. Please: spend the relatively modest amount of money and time required to obtain a concealed handgun license now, if at all possible.
What ticks me off about some manifestations of the open carry movement, however, is the second goal: the delusion of “normalizing” open carry. This is about as likely to work as “normalizing” homosexuality by having two guys strip naked and have sex in the middle of Main Street. Guns are powerful symbols — and even those of us who are strongly pro-gun, and support widespread gun ownership and carrying, respond negatively to unnecessary displays. You can imagine the reaction from those who are ambivalent or even slightly hostile to gun ownership.
A handgun is primarily a defensive weapon: something that is easy to carry and easy to put into action in the event of a sudden and unexpected attack. By contrast, a shotgun or a rifle is primarily an offensive weapon: clumsy to carry, slow to bring into use. There are circumstances where you might have occasion to carry a long gun while going around town — but almost all of these scenarios involve flesh-eating zombies. No surprise, then, that the reaction of most people to a stranger with a long gun in a public place is concern, if not outright fear: “Is this guy a lunatic who is going to start mowing people down?”
If you need to carry a gun into a public place, and there is some good reason why you do not have a permit to carry concealed, then going for discreet is a really good idea. Consider something small and black that is not going to scare the wits out of people when you walk in the door — like this Walther PPK, or this Colt Mustang. If you are carrying a gun to make a political point — and especially if you are carrying a long gun into the children’s section of the public library — well, you’ve succeeded. You’ve convinced everyone in the library that your pet issue is more important to you than the peace of mind of every kid and adult present.