In Defense of Open Carry

Posted: December 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

Recently the lemmings at published an article decrying the horrors of a dangerous “new craze” in the gun community. The “craze” they reference was…wait for it…open carry. For those of you in the gun community, you understand that open carry is simply the conspicuous unconcealed carrying of a firearm, usually a handgun. Open carry is legal in the vast majority of states, and has been that way since the beginning. Most states, such as South Dakota for example, are traditional open carry states. They have no laws prohibiting the practice of open carry, and thus the practice is not illegal (things that aren’t illegal are…legal). Other states, like Iowa, statutorily protect the practice of open carry for those possessing a permit.


In the article, Salon goes to great lengths to prophesy blood in the streets. They use predictable tactics, like citing extreme examples (several of which are broken links or complete lies), and hypothesizing what “might” happen if this craze goes mainstream. One minor detail the chaps at Salon seem to have overlooked: Open carry has been around for hundreds of years, hasn’t resulted in any legitimate issues, and isn’t going anywhere. Since the age of 21 I have carried a firearm every day of my life. On a day-to-day basis I open carry roughly 50% of the time. One of our instructors open carries 100% of the time, as does one of my brothers. This year our company began a photo campaign on our Instagram called Open Carry Across America where we document ourselves open carrying at interesting places across the nation. In the last 6 months alone, I’ve open carried in Omaha, Seattle, Spokane, Salt Lake, Boise, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Des Moines, Richmond, etc. I have also carried concealed in all of those cities. As of today, I have never had a negative law enforcement encounter involving open or concealed carry, never had a business ask me to leave, never had an alarmed citizen. Nothing. Very much to the contrary, I’ve had dozens of positive comments from men and women who commend me for carrying. Most people, however, simply don’t notice that I’m carrying at all and life goes on as normal. There is a subculture of open carriers who seek proactively to elicit law enforcement encounters. I am most certainly not one of those people, but the attorney in me understands why they do it. Like all aspects of society, we need the fringe elements to balance out the middle and shift the Overton window.

My wife snapped this photo of me open carrying in line behind two police officers at lunch. Like every other LEO experience i've ever had, they didn't give me a second look. I didn't give their guns a second look either.

My wife snapped this photo of me open carrying in line behind two police officers at lunch a few weeks ago. There were a dozen or so of them there that day for a luncheon. Like every other LEO experience I’ve ever had, they didn’t give me a second look. Notice no one is panicking. If you listen closely you can hear the minds of editors exploding.

It’s understandable why would object to the practice of open carry. After all, I’d imagine those dainty souls are about as familiar with the carrying of firearms as they are with manual labor or where their food comes from. What is less understandable, however, is why those invested in the gun community object to open carry. Second Amendment personalities like Rob Pincus and James Yeager have been outspoken in their objection to the practice. James and Rob don’t agree with open carry because they fear it will offend the powers that be and result in more restrictions on the right to bear arms. I don’t know either of those gentlemen and I respect their work, but I do know history and I know the law. Constitutional rights (as discussed below) require extreme exercise for promulgation. The sentiment that ANY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS should be trepidatiously exercised so as to not offend the sensitivities of the State is laughable. Ridiculous. Take the first amendment for example. The cases that have most solidified the rights contained in the first amendment revolve around extreme subject matter like pornography, obscenity, and protesting soldiers funerals. All things that I have no desire to participate in (and I despise the westboro baptists) but my point remains. The more flagrant the exercise of any constitutional right, the more likely such right is to be solidified (for further reference read Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, etc.). Besides Rob and James’ concern about rocking the boat, many in the gun community claim open carry gives up your tactical advantage.  I disagree with both of these statements.

In every course I’ve taught (nearly 20,000 students at this point) I’ve challenged the participants to give open carry a shot (no pun intended). My reasons for giving the challenge are simple, it preserves the right and deters crime. For those two reasons alone, everyone, not just gunnies, should support the practice of open carry. Allow me to expound.

A right unexercised is a right lost.”

I don’t know who said it, but it has become the battle cry of open carriers. It is also very much true. Just like muscles, constitutional rights need to be exercised in order to stay the effects of atrophy. If any constitutional right becomes dormant (i.e. unexercised) it will atrophy and die. Take California for example. People are amazed to learn that up until January 1, 2012, an individual could walk down most California streets open carrying a handgun or rifle. Relatively no one was doing it, however, so in late 2011 the legislature met in their secret chambers and stripped the right from the people. In an instant, what was once a constitutional right became a criminal act. Imagine how that abdication of rights would have played out differently had, instead of a handful of open carry activists, 250,000 people been open carrying firearms each day. 2 million people. California didn’t lose the right to open carry because they had a few fanatics open carrying ARs into Starbucks, they lost it because they didn’t have ENOUGH people carrying ARs into Starbucks. My point is as simple as it is indisputable. The more people exercising a particular right, the more solidified against encroachment said right will become. This is the primary reason I open carry.

The second reason I open carry is best summarized by Thomas Paine:

“The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The balance of power is the scale of peace. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside.” Thomas Paine

The supposed quietude of a good man (woman) allures the ruffian. Have you ever heard of a police officer getting carjacked? Why not? Is it the badge, the car, or the uniform that prevents their victimization? Obviously not. It’s the gun they carry on their hip. Same gun you can carry on your hip.

I have worked as a prosecutor and taken hundreds of criminals to court. I have also worked as a defense attorney. A  couple things I’ve learned from that experience. First, criminals are like water and will almost always choose the path of least resistance. Much like any predator, they will seek out the weakest of the herd to prey upon. Call me crazy, but if I were seeking to assault someone I probably wouldn’t choose the guy/gal carrying a 1911 in a drop thigh holster. Unless of course it was a Para Ordnance, then I’d know it would jam on the first cycle.

The second thing I learned from my time prosecuting is that criminals rarely commit spree crimes (rape, robbery, burglary, carjacking) with loaded firearms. Only once did I see a loaded gun used in a spree crime, and it was during a domestic dispute. All the rest were BB guns, fake guns, or unloaded guns. Criminals use fake guns for a variety of reasons. Some think they will get a lesser criminal charge (not true), but most are simply not gun people. These aren’t guys who put a thousand rounds down range in preparation for their foray into carjacking. Most have never fired the weapon they are using, don’t know how to maintain it, and wouldn’t know the first thing about effectively using it.

You know why gangsters shoot their guns sideways don't you? That's the way it came in the box and they never read the owners manual!

You know why gangsters shoot their guns sideways don’t you? That’s the way it came in the box and they never read the owners manual.

When a criminal walks into a bank and sees me standing there with a gun on my hip they essentially know three things:

  1. I’ve probably got a real gun
  2. I’ve probably got real ammunition in my gun
  3. I probably really know how to use my gun

Again, open carry isn’t so much about reacting to a violent altercation as it is deterring the altercation altogether.

But Phil, they see your gun and now you’ve given up your tactical advantage. You’ve made yourself a target! Tactical advantage, tactical advantage, tactical advantage!!!

False. As mentioned above, my experience tells me odds are in my favor that the criminal’s gun is unloaded. Beyond that, if open carry really made you a target how do you explain criminals consciously avoiding businesses that utilize armed guards? If open carry encourages targeting, wouldn’t those businesses be hit with robberies most often? No, methinks criminals will opt to avoid gunfights whenever possible and simply seek out easier targets. At least that’s what I would do if I was a criminal. In that same logical vein, non-carriers are transitively benefitted merely by being around an open carrier. If and to the extent open carry deters criminal attacks for the carrier, it will also deter those same attacks for anyone in the immediate area surrounding the carrier. For this reason open carry is good public policy and should be embraced by everyone, including those outside the firearm community. More people open carrying will mean less locations where criminals will find unarmed victims, therefor resulting in a concentration of criminal activity and more effective law enforcement methods.

Finally, though I hate to get into tactical debates based solely on hyperbole, open carry lends itself to substantially faster draw times and the carry of larger (more accurate) handguns. As an example, I shot a mountain lion this week with my open carry handgun at 75 feet on the move. Not a world record shot (or lion) by any means, but try pulling that off with your pocket Ruger LCP. Our company has never portrayed itself as a tactical school and we never will. We are legal experts, we’ll leave the tactical debates to guys like Rob and James.

Again, I’m not saying open carry is the only way to go or is superior to concealed carry. I use both methods of carry equally. My point is simply that both methods of carry (open or concealed) have their merits and should be exercised vigorously. It’s time for open carry to be embraced by the entire gun community. Whichever way you choose to carry, I echo the sentiment of Patrick Henry when he noted that “the great object is, that every man be armed…”

  1. CJ says:

    “”But Phil, they see your gun and now you’ve given up your tactical advantage. You’ve made yourself a target! Tactical advantage, tactical advantage, tactical advantage!!!””

    I agree
    you have given away information to your advisory. The odds he is unloaded is info you don’t have
    it would be just a summation on your part but he sure knows for sure who is his first target long before you even know your A TARGET
    I agree we should not give the anti’s any leeway but tactically you are a target
    As stupid as you may think he is, he is still one step ahead of you and that as small as it is, It is still an advantage

  2. The best course of action often depends on the external environment. If an open-carry individual is alone, he cannot be 100% aware of all possible risks 360 degrees around at all times. He can unknowingly encounter one or more covert criminals by pure bad luck, and can easily be outmaneuvered. When your first clue is a bullet to the back of your head, it is hard to survive. The good guy open carrier can also unknowingly and unintentionally incite random psychos into doing something stupid and reckless. If the dangerous individual is strong and has control of the good guy’s arm before he can fetch his gun, the gun will do the good guy no good whatsoever.

    On the other hand, if the responsible gun owner displays openly along with a group, and any possible threat individual recognizes he is up against an overwhelming force of numbers, it is only the psycho who will attempt suicide by facing that overwhelming force.

  3. randy crawford says:

    Example of how open carry can make anyone an open target to be murdered, e.g. criminals wanting a second gun. His uniform and his trick holster didn’t save him. It likely wouldn’t have happened if the cop had had allies covering his hindside:

  4. sheepdog says:

    I open carry and conceal a backup every time I leave my home for anything other than to go to work. I do it for my community to keep crime down by keeping the criminally minded on their toes. I know the dangers and I stay aware, but I’m not the one caught off guard. It’s the guy who want’s his 15 minutes, then sees a shiny steel mag and becomes and example of compliant behavior, or the folks who know they are wanted for something they did who were about to enjoy a steak dinner with the rest of the sheep, but just saw a sheepdog they can’t identify and want the bill so they can get the hell out. Even the police treat me as one of their own, and why not? I take the same risk and responsibility for the safety of others. In a world where kids play knock out games and beat people to the brink if death as a gang ritual, someone has to be there. Yes, you can hide your gun, hide your beliefs and your convictions. Maybe you’ll pull it when it’s needed. You’re certainly not obliged if no one knows it’s there, as the others sure won’t be looking to you for any response. But if the sheep see it and recognize you as some kind of sheepdog then that wolf is your problem whether he’s after you or someone else. The way I see it, it’s not so much about tactical advantage as it is about conviction. Anybody can carry a concealed weapon convinced they will use it to protect themselves or their family. Not everyone is willing to carry openly, exposed and recognized, ready to protect the people around them as well.
    My tactical advantage is skill, conviction, resolve, and a full size stainless steel Springfield 1911 in a smooth draw leather holster, cocked and locked for all to see.
    BTW, Concealed or not if you always follow a predictable pattern, and people who want a gun know you have it, they have a good chance of getting it. Besides, no one has ever gotten out of life alive. Dying can be painful, but it’s the easy part of life. Living and learning to accept yourself is the real challenge.

  5. Open carry if you want. Conceal carry if you want. Understand the law, benefits, detriments, advantages and disadvantages and carry on.

    I do both.

  6. randy crawford says:

    There is no strategy that will provide 100% safety 100% of the time, whether the issue is flying bullets or meteorites dropping out of the sky. All any of us can do is to minimize risks according to the prevailing circumstances. In one neighborhood it may be generally safe to open carry, in another neighborhood not.

    Even where there is no perceived risk, and many years of proven zero risk up to the present, there may be calculating criminal minds interposing themselves for an unexpected visit later today. Thus what was safe 5 minutes ago can suddenly become an invitation to be shot or clubbed in the back of the head with absolutely no warning. At that point, former assets can become mortal liabilities– as many cops killed suddenly in the line of duty have learned (very briefly) the hard way.

    The best way to be safe, in any instance of open carry, is usually to have armed allies nearby. Otherwise, the lone open carry individual becomes target #1 of anybody with malicious intent. Especially if he has felony experience and a determination to not be sent back to the state pen. If some protective allies you are mutually backing up are openly armed and some are undercover concealed, so much the better. A companion strategy is to openly carry an unloaded gun (firing pin removed is a plus, as is dummy ammo), and simultaneously have a loaded weapon or two handy. But even that is no protection against a sudden vicious attack from the rear, as learned by many dead policemen as recounted for example in

  7. Stephen Silic says:

    Hi Phil, Thanks for the great article on open carry. It is something I have always wanted to try and now I will. Years ago my father has a friend who always opened carried a 1911.He carried it where ever he went. I remember asking him if ever got into trouble doing that and his answer was always NO. I would then ask him why and his answer was because nobody wants to get near me. He has now pasted on,but I can still see that 45 on his side. He was a great gunsmith and great shot. He is one of only 2 men I know to own a real Richard Jordan Gattling gun, which we shot every year on the 4th of July. Well enough history. Will you guys be at the new Harrisburg Pa “Great American Outdoor Show? I will be there on Feb.6th and 7th hope to see you there. By the way, I do believe that open carry is legal in Pa., can you confirm that? I see you did carry in Philly so it must be. Have a great day and maybe we can chat at the Harrisburg show.

  8. randy crawford says:

    Open carry when all alone can be an invitation for criminals to knock you on the back of the head, and for cops to harass you. As to the latter contingency, here is one example of how to fend off problems:!/photo.php?v=635708399820955&set=vb.129396577118809&type=2&theater

  9. Fatal dangers of open carry while acting alone—> If the police can be easily ambushed, how are you any safer unless you plan ahead and act with adequate allies?

    • ongoingfreedom says:

      And this is a common problem to open carriers? Okay, how about occasional? Rare?

      You can post the two or three documented events of OCers being feloniously disarmed if you want, but at least be honest about it: it really is just a ‘possible’, EXCEEDINGLY rare event that you fear.

      You’re more likely to die from Scarlet Fever in the U.S. than experience what you are afraid of.

      I don’t disagree that OCing is safer with friends, I just disagree with your hysteria about solo OC.

    • Solo open carry is entirely safe in some environments. It can be rapidly fatal to the honest honorable legal open carrier in others. The issue is rationally balancing all the relative risks, not succumbing to hysteria or any other kind of emotionalism. If you are in a place where there are a lot of open and concealed carriers throughout the population who are non-felonious and willing to back you up, you are safer even is open carrying alone. If you make yourself into easy pickings where there are a lot of potential dangers, it’s the other way around. What works great in Salt Lake City or Amarillo doesn’t necessarily work in dopeland Southside Chicago or Miami. And you never know when you will run into a psycho or death row escapee who suddenly grabs for your gun feeling they have nothing to lose.

      Neither carrying alternative gives a 100% secure outcome either way, just like wearing a seat belt doesn’t guarantee you will stay alive from a car crash nor does absence of a seat belt guarantee you will die. Wearing one can even get you trapped and killed in a rollover when otherwise you’d be thrown clear. Concealed carry can provide a time delay that gets you killed, while open carry can attract unwanted attention of the fatal sort or perhaps on other occasions scare away all trouble.

      But if you regularly open carry alone, hundreds of thousands of potential hindside sneak attackers will have a chance to size you up over the years, especially crazies in large towns. Multiplied over multiple open carriers, the improbable and infrequent risk is spread to millions of potential nut cases to go ballistic on you, as real policemen actually find happens in the real world. Try telling their families that getting killed in the line of duty was an OK risk because it doesn’t happen very often.

      The day that civilian Mr. Jones has his gun grabbed, he’s shot dead, and several innocent bystanders get massacred by some psycho going manic is the day you have handed Obama, Pelosi, Schumer, and Feinstein exactly the ammunition they are looking for to tear down the Second Amendment worse than they have attempted already. Why arm your enemies? It might make a personal feel important, proud, and glorious to show off their shooting iron, and in some cases it can discourage criminal ambitions. But in the long run discretion is generally the better part of valor. If you speak softly, carry a big stick, and generally speaking keep it hidden so that you can take care of any S.O.B. before he figures out how to take care of you– then you are not handing Hillary’s howling tribe the propaganda they are looking to exploit. Otherwise, it’s safest to learn from armies and police forces that there is safety in numbers.

  10. The psychos are out there, targeting by pre-meditation. It was the official guy open carrying as a cop, and with a benevolent heart of gold, who tried to help his fellow man and ended up maliciously dead:

  11. Jerry Stone says:

    Randy I can see you have thought the negative side of open carry through pretty thoroughly. We have already covered the advantages for society. Do you also know the stats on how many times a day an armed or just willing citizen helps police and it goes unreported? There’s a greater risk that you will die taking a shower than with your gun at your side. Fear, especially fear of death assumes that you have a future life as a living being on earth beyond the present moment, but no one and nothing can assure that or protect us from our passing. We are born – we live – we die. The we live part is where we have the chance to make our mark on the world in the hopes of leaving it a better place than we found it. There are many ways to do that, but living in fear of our eventual death would be an unfortunate waste of a promising life. BTW you need to pay closer attention next time you watch a war movie. Nothing safe about being in an army at war, and our police usually patrol alone in a war against crime. Having the courage to pull over a car and advise them about a broken tail light takes more nerve than having a holstered gun on your side!

  12. Open carry is fine and is a wonderful heroic patriotic way to express yourself. That way you can stand up for your Second Amendment as well as First Amendment rights. It can also be a stupid risk that gets you killed for nothing. Like carrying an umbrella or not, whether it is smart to do depends on the circumstances, mostly. Either carrying or not carrying can get you killed, or save your life. Carrying openly or secretly can get you killed, or save your life. Wearing a seat belt can get you killed, or save your life. Wearing a motorcycle helmet can get you killed, or save your life. All anybody can do is evaluate all the prevailing factors for a particular time and place, and then guess at the statistical probability as to the best course of action. That’s why humans have brains, and the better we employ them (including to evaluate circumstances) the better we can distinguish ourselves from the apes.

    Bottom line is: under most circumstances, open carry is advisable only if you have a friend or two [or more] to cover one another’s hindsides. Why keep a good thing to yourself? Soldiers don’t go to battle unless they are snipers, and even then it takes a team to work something like a Barrett well. It takes nerve to climb Mt. Everest also, but that doesn’t mean it accomplishes anything other than feeding one’s own ego. And, anybody climbing Mt. Everest is probably roped to a piton and/or backed up by fellow climbers. Police tend to patrol alone because the department doesn’t have the dollars to double up even though everybody knows it would be safer, and so solo cops (and soldiers in groups) get used as cannon fodder by guys who are safe at a desk behind bulletproof glass or behind the lines. One key goal we need to have is to maximize our chances of staying alive, since being foolishly brave and doing so unnecessarily merely wins the Darwin Award. Nobody can advocate anything if they have achieved that Darwin Award, and they are also leaving behind families betrayed to foolish stupidity, even if it’s only one guy in a million. Ask any widow whether she would have wished her husband hadn’t taken foolish chances that left her to raise the kids alone.

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