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

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.