I live in a state in which open carry of a firearm has always been legal. All my life I have seen people carrying pistols on their belts. It is as normal as carrying a wallet. While almost every state in the US now has some provision to allow the concealed carry of a pistol by citizens, some states still restrict the open (unconcealed) carry of pistols.

In many of these states, there are activist groups who promote the open carry of firearms. Even in states that allow open carry, there are open carry groups that promote expanded open carry freedom. I am glad that there are people who will stand for the basic human right to armed self-defense as affirmed by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. However, I am increasingly seeing a tone among open carry activists that is of concern to me.

I believe in human rights, liberty, and freedom. I strongly support any law-abiding citizen’s right to openly carry a pistol. My personal choice, however, is to carry concealed when I am in town. I have several reasons for this. The most important is that concealing the pistol gives me an element of surprise and can prevent a criminal from approaching with the intent of neutralizing the weapon or making me a primary target. Another reason that I usually conceal my pistol is to prevent offending people. The presence of a weapon intimidates many people. Modern entertainment and education has caused some Americans to develop an unfounded fear of firearms. Someone who feels uncomfortable when seeing me openly carrying a firearm may be transformed from being largely unconcerned about firearms into an anti-gun activist. However, I will not tell others how to carry and would never oppose anyone’s right to openly carry a firearm.

I would like to see all those who carry firearms be considerate and respectful, though. I think that most who carry understand that being respectful goes hand-in-hand with being armed. Unfortunately, there is a very small but growing number of open carry activists who feel that a belligerent, in-your-face approach is the best approach for promoting open carry rights. These groups or individuals often oppose pro-carry legislation if they feel that it is not strong enough in promoting open carry rights. Many of these groups are actively opposing national reciprocity legislation because it does not protect their right to open carry anywhere in the country without a permit. They are not willing to take steps toward reinstating constitutionally protected rights, but will be satisfied only with a giant leap.

I do not think that it serves our purposes to go out looking for a fight. The anti-gun segment of society expects those who carry weapons to be belligerent and confrontational – it fits their stereotype. We have spent many years since the advance of carry rights in most states proving them wrong. Let’s not allow the open carry issue become the ammunition that they have been looking for.

I have been reading reports for some time about a self-styled “open carry activist” who carries an AK pistol (Draco). He carries it on a sling and often with a tactical vest. He has painted the flash hider orange to look like an airsoft gun, and he carries it in a manner and in places to ensure confrontations with law enforcement officers. He also performs other publicity stunts involving the carry of firearms. He is doing far more harm than good to the public image of gun owners. Unfortunately, others are following his lead and the example of people like him. A search of YouTube finds a number of videos posted by those who venture out with a video camera and a firearm with intending to bait law enforcement or business owners into a confrontation. This only serves to turn public opinion against firearm owners.

Here are some ideas for etiquette when carrying openly or concealed:

1. Don’t be confrontational, especially with law enforcement officers. Officers have a lot to deal with. Some are more professional than others, but most are actually strong supporters of our right to be armed for self-protection. Some may be restricted from outwardly showing that support while on duty by the policies of their organizations. Still, whether they are pro-carry or anti-gun, knowledgeable or ignorant of gun laws, friendly or hostile, the law-abiding gun owner should look to law enforcement as allies, not as enemies. By interacting with law enforcement in a positive way, we are reaffirming the fact that an armed citizenry is not a threat to law enforcement.

2. Be respectful of business and property owners. In my state, most businesses may not make their business off-limits to the legal carry of firearms, with some obvious exceptions (for instance, it is unlawful for anyone to be in possession of a firearm while drinking alcohol anywhere). Some businesses still post “No Guns” signs, even though they cannot legally stop the legal carry of firearms in their business. Some post nothing but will ask you to leave if they see you with a firearm. I will not argue with a business owner over my right to carry. From a legal standpoint, I know I have the right to carry there. From a personal standpoint, I recognize that the person owns the property that I am on and since he is the owner, I will respect his wishes. I will simply leave. To me, while I know my rights, it is about respect. Personal property is simple here – in this state no one may enter another person’s home without informing an adult resident that he is armed and requesting permission to be armed in that person’s home. To me this just makes sense – it is something I do even in states that do not have this requirement.

3. Write letters. I urge everyone to write letters to those in their communities who oppose the lawful carry of firearms, open or concealed. If a business does not allow firearms in their facility, a polite, well-written letter is in order. You will need to present yourself well, so have someone with the proper skills check your rough draft for style, grammar, and spelling. Contact others who carry and suggest that they also write letters to the business owner. It is essential that all such communication be respectful and professional. A bullying or condescending tone will do more harm than good, which brings us to our next point.

4. Many people who would restrict the legal carry of firearms have never really thought about it. They think that people should not carry guns in their business, or in public places, because they have a general vague feeling that this is the way it should be – often fostered by a lifetime of influence from the media. These people may be anywhere in the political spectrum, but are solid, rational citizens – the kind of people who you would like to have next door. They don’t have an agenda, they don’t want to take away your rights, they just never really thought about the issue before. We have an opportunity to convert them to a position of respecting the basic human right to self-defense, or we can convert them to anti-gun activists. It all depends on our actions and how we present ourselves.

I grew up in a frontier village, where firearms were a part of daily life. We had no electricity, almost no violent crime, and no store. What fresh meat we had was hunted or fished. Bears were prevalent and while they generally posed no problem, they could be a threat at any time. I grew up with friends whose families, while politically extremely liberal, all hunted and kept firearms for self-defense. My wife grew up in a very conservative family, with mainly very conservative friends. When we began dating in college, I gave her a rifle. When we were about to get married, her parents said they needed to sit down with us for a serious talk. They told us that they were happy with everything about our upcoming marriage, except for one thing – they did not want any future grandchildren growing up in a house with guns. Her parents were not anti-gun (they had both grown up with firearms in their homes), they had just never really considered the issue beyond taking some of the anti-gun hype at face value. They had also spent many years living an a country with very restrictive gun laws. We were polite, respected their concerns, and talked about the issue. Today, both of my wife’s parents carry firearms daily for personal protection and each have an AR-15 for recreational shooting. They are the first to suggest that we pack up their grandchildren and take them to the range. We had to make a choice about how to handle that situation. The choice we made built a stronger relationship; a different approach could have destroyed relationships.

5. Be the one who is level-headed. Be the one who uses logic. Be the one who must be respected for the way you handle yourself, even by those who disagree with you. The anti-gun and anti-self-defense arguments are, by nature, emotional and illogical. True anti-gun activists will not be dissuaded from their arguments by mere truth or facts. Because their position is already irrational, and approaches a religious-like devotion, there is not much hope to change the minds of some of these most rabidly anti-gun people. However, the vast majority of people, even those who consider themselves to be anti-gun, need only to be exposed to shooting, the true concept of armed self-defense, and to shooters themselves to realize that firearms in the hands of responsible citizens are an advantage in any society. These people are rational, and when calmly presented with factual information by polite, respectful gun owners, will easily recognize the truth. If we approach people with a belligerent, arrogant, or emotional argument, we will get nowhere but to alienate them.

Lets take care to conduct ourselves in a way that presents a good image to the public and gives anti-gun activists no ammunition to use against us. We need to think about how we present ourselves and then help other shooters to understand how best to present themselves. If people start suggesting that our actions are damaging our reputation, then it is something to heed.

This article originally appeared on Dylan Saunders’ website, 7.62 Precision.

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  • thomas

    Loved the article, so true with the respect issue.

  • Bob Sadtler

    Damn, Dylan, where do you live? I’m GREEN with envy! As good as Va is in some respects, any business can ban guns with a simple sign. I need to move!

    I also agree that it is stupid to reject incremental advances and hold your breath for the whole kit and kaboodle. We call it getting the camel’s nose in the tent, and it’s working, year after year. In Va, anyway.

    I think that the AK and AR pistols are about the stupidest things that I have EVER seen. I still support the right to own them, or even carry them. But using them to make a point is NOT helpful. Plays RIGHT into the stereotypes. Let’s get Campus Carry, Constitutional Carry, and pull the lesser states out of the dark ages first. Once conventional pistols are the norm, EVERYWHERE, then we can push for the exotic.

    Keep on keepin’ on.

    • Dylan

      I live in Alaska. Up here, if you can legally buy a pistol you can legally carry it concealed or open without a permit. I was checking with a borough (our sort of version of a county) about running shooting courses and wanted to know if they had any restrictions. They said as far as they were concerned, they could regulate other activities, but they could not regulate any shooting activity because they felt it would infringe on rights protected by the Second Amendment. That largely sums up the attitude of most of the state toward firearms.
      I spent a lot of time in the Bristol area for a while, mostly on the TN side. Seems like VA has been getting better as far as gun laws go since then.

    • Boon

      AR pistols, when you want to build a short barreled rifle but don’t want to wait 6 months for the tax stamp to shoot it.

  • I would like to point out some of the reasons that myself and several other people (namely OCers, but after talking with CCers I’ve even had some of them admit that they are good points) oppose the National Recoprocity law and it has nothing to do with the law not protecting OCing. If you know of OC people/organizations that have come out against the National Recoprocity law simply because it doesn’t protect OCing then could you please provide cites as that goes against what I’ve heard.

    1) States’ rights vs Federal power. For the most part this is a states’ rights issue and NOT something that the Feds should have any say in unless you view it as a violation for the Second Amendment itself (and I’ll talk about this later).

    2) Manner in which this law is being called “Constitutional.” What is being claimed to give th Feds the power to pass such a law is the “Commerce Clause.” The Commerce Clause is easily the most abused bit to pass otherwise Unconstitutional laws. Obamacare, Gun-free School Zones Act, etc all use this clause to claim Constitutionality. But should it pass there is nothing to stop a future Congress from deciding that since it falls in their purvue as “commerce” that they need to control the whole permit system and standardize it across all states. By using the Commerce Clause it would actually make it easier to pass anti-gun laws in the future by making the permit hard/expensive to obtain. And while I’m sure many people think it couldn’t happen, gun owners in England never thought that the laws being passed in the early 1900s (I think they started their anti-gun laws in the ’20s or ’30s) would lead to a near complete ban before 2000.

    3) Why not use another method to inact the law? They could either use the “Full Faith and Credit Clause” to force all states to honor other’s permits, or if it was a true violation of the 2A they could use the Fourteenth Amendment to force all states to properly honor the Second Amendment.

    4) In short, the law as it was proposed gave gun owners a short term gain while at the same time expanding the power of the Feds and presenting a long-term threat to gun rights (should Congress ever swing anti-gun again they could use that newly-gained power to restrict gun rights). The law also reinforces the whole issue of requiring a permit to exercise a right. SCOTUS has already ruled such things unconstitutional (poll tax or the 1A case “Murdock v. Pennsylvania – 319 U.S. 105 (1943) …A state may not impose a charge for the enjoyment of a right granted by the Federal Constitution…”) but many in the gun community have simply accepted it. While I am not against training (I highly recommend it and wish I could personally afford to take more training), I ask you to look at who stands the most to gain from mandatory training, and then look at who pushes/supports such laws. Aka follow the money; and then realize that those who need to carry the most (those in poor/troubled neighborhoods) are the least likely to be able to afford training and permit renewal costs even if it was legal for them to carry.

    Also I don’t agree with your view of police officers. I fully agree that one should be polite/respectful, but they refuse and actively defend their bad apples (I mean we all know about the Canton, Ohio incident and his partner did NOTHING to stop it, or the 45minute incident in Philly involving cussing and multiple police officers). Until law enforcement starts cleaning up their own ranks I will view all cops with a wary eye because I can’t tell the good from the bad. And even if they seem nice it has been ruled by SCOTUS that they can lie to us, they don’t have to actually know the laws (usually saying something like “I thought the law was X” is enough for them to not be personally responsible), and they have no responsibility to protect the individual. So while you should be polite/respectful, that doesn’t mean you should simply let them walk all over you and threaten you with color of law.

    There were also a few other things I took minor issue with (the “advantage” of CCing over OCing, “looking for a fight,” and “baiting officer”), but I don’t want to make this post any longer than it already is.

  • Here here, 5 stars on this story. I’ll keep it short, Firearms Education is needed for all USA citizens and it should start in the public education system. Open Carry and Conceal Carry should be legal nationally for all those who are qualified.

  • You can choose to do whatever you want. It is your right to choose how you carry where allowed.

    However, if I was a calculating criminal, I would take time to shoot you first if I see guns on you. So from a defensive point of view, it is a big failure.

    From the advocacy point of view, obviously it is not doing all that well either because it hasn’t changed the mind of many.

  • Sally

    All well and good when preaching to the choir. I came here researching Open Carry etiquette and you pretty much had me ’til you decided all my possible anti-gun and self-defense arguments must be just “emotional and illogical.” Pardon me if I think any way you treat me in a discussion would be condescending and NOT polite. I’m working on gun violence prevention as a Pacifist. If I’m not to stereotype YOU and other gun rights activists as stupid yahoos I’d appreciate YOU not treating me as STUPID. True politeness implies respect.