Jacob Sullum on Open Carry

I was eager to read his opinion on this topic, because despite being friendly on the gun issue, he’s a bit of an outsider to it. He didn’t really commit one way or another, but he brought up an interesting point:

Beyond the legal and practical issues, of course, there is the question of whether open carry activists are helping or hurting the cause of gun rights by popping up in coffee shops and restaurants with weapons on their waists. Respectable, law-abiding people carrying guns openly in public places could help normalize gun ownership and armed self-defense among people who are unfamiliar with both. The experience of a Walnut Hill, California, pizzeria owner who decided to welcome gun carriers is consistent with that hope:

“Frankly, I wasn’t sure how I would feel in that type of situation, and it really turned out to be a total nonissue,” Ms. Grunner said.

“The families were great,” she said. “These were very gracious people.” The fact that customers wore sidearms, she said, “just faded into the background.”

Then again, the sight of people with pistols on their hips could serve to confirm prejudices about gun owners among people who believe they fetishize their weapons and seek to project a macho image. The goal of encouraging support for liberalized concealed carry policies depends to some extent on normalization yet at the same time assumes open gun toting will make people uneasy. I’m not sure people can be simultaneously reassured and alarmed.

This statement, in combination with some other statements folks have made in the comments, makes me wonder whether your opinion on open carry is largely driven by your perception of what the dominant thinking is around you, and that perhaps the open carry folks have a more optimistic outlook on the attitudes of their fellow Americans than non-open-carry supporters.

From my point of view, I think most people, if forced to take a side, probably wouldn’t support carrying a gun in public if it meant they were going to see guns everywhere they went. I don’t want the public thinking about how they feel about it, because I worry we’ll lose support. But I suspect open carry folks believe that if the public is forced to think about it, the public will eventually take their side, and we’ll gain support. Which side is right? Probably depends greatly on the surrounding culture. I suspect neither side is right in every circumstance, but it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. The Starbucks incident may end up being a watershed moment in the debate.

33 thoughts on “Jacob Sullum on Open Carry”

  1. Mark me as one of the pessimists (though I live in a very gun-friendly place). I thought we were on the right track with normalizing concealed carry and expanding reciprocity incrementally. The other side can’t organize and fund-raise against CCW where it now exists because it’s a proven non-issue. Nobody much cares because they don’t see it, they don’t hear about problems with it on the news, and Joe and Jane Everyman might have even thought about getting trained and permitted after some horrific story in the paper.
    Open carry, on the other hand, helps the other side organize. Ordinary people with careers and PTA meetings and social circles simply don’t identify with open carry, and that, I think, makes them immediately suspicious of those who do it. If you had the right open carry advocate, and they could speak face to face with everybody forming an opinion, it’s still a tough sell. But they can’t, and the news media is sympathetic to the other side and happy to get a sensational story.

  2. After checking out the stores on South Street during a visit to Philadelphia years ago, I can still remember then going into this one sandwich shop in that part of town.

    The guy behind the counter frying up the cheese steaks was open carrying a Glock 17 on his hip. I asked him if he was the only one allowed to open carry in his shop. He said if he knew you well enough and that you were legal to possess firearms, he would not object. I then said that I liked his answer and wanted to order some cheese steaks to go.

  3. You have been negative about OC while others are positive. I believe Rod has been very vocal about this.

    OC is is the news adn i have watched this for several yeras . Mike Stollenwork is an advocate for OC and he had recruited a lot of the Gun Rights examiers so the issue get more news.

    The objection I have about CC is that the implication that the carrier is ashamed to be seen with a gun and that he accepts the concept it is bad to have a gun.

    Others just think it is bad manners to OC and I can see that viewpoint and have sympathy with that viewpoint.

    But from the reluctance to be seen with a gun led to gun control in my opinion having lived through the 1960-1990’s.

    I recall as a child that we bought handguns in Virginia and that had to be before the 1968 law.

    I grew up with James Bond and thought shoulder concealed was cool. WE even got the Walther PPK gun because we liked James Bond. When I shot it I found it was not a good gun for me. The spring was too strong and gun too small and I had a tendency to have my hand cover the barrel when racking the slide.

  4. “Then again, the sight of people with pistols on their hips could serve to confirm prejudices about gun owners among people who believe they fetishize their weapons and seek to project a macho image.”

    Remember, we should restrict our rights to make people comfortable. I think we should have separate lunch counters, separate bathrooms, separate churches, back of the bus only…. you get the idea.

  5. Remember that just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you must do a thing or should do a thing.

  6. Fed. Farmer,

    I would add “… at all times and in all places.”

    Venue full of grownups, say a movie theatre or real restaurant ? Probably going to fall more on the “meh” side for most undecided folks. That non-threatening venue would likely help with the normalization effort the more they see it being done as a matter of fact (not as a protest).

    Chuck E. Cheese at noon on Saturday? That might be seen as overly provocative from a cold start, maybe having it concealed in kiddy venues makes a bit more PR sense (without decreasing your safety), at least until the undecided parents get used to the idea of exposed guns when their precious snowflakes aren’t in play.

    That comfort could be tracked via media. As OC falls off the front page, start expanding the reach. Turn up the heat slowly and lull that frog into soup.

    Remember, such remorseless incrementalism appears to have worked with concealed carry. Most places started out with more time and place restrictions that got removed after a few years of no issues.

    That’s how we got no-permit carry in Alaska anyway, we’re pretty gun friendly and it still took us a decade. By the time they changed the law even teh commie rag didn’t whine too much.

  7. In this case, incrementalism is our friend.

    Get OC legalized a bit slowly, and in the most gun-friendly states, first. Let it become “normalized”, and it will slowly dawn on those in neighboring states that “it ain’t no big deal”. Get those states next, and let the dominoes continue to fall.

    Some wise tactical legislation, such as requiring “retention” holsters, would play well in managing perceptions. Perhaps even some courses (much along CHL quals) for OC carriers to train in weapons retention.

    They took nigh onto 90 years to beat down our rights. If we can reverse that tide in half the time, we’re fortunate indeed.

    In MY perfect world, we’d be much like the Swiss, with mandatory training, issuance and annual quals and competition. So, you can see how “moderated” my approach to winning the OC battle really is.

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  8. No legislation to manage perceptions. That is how gun control morality got started.

  9. Sebastian,

    You said:
    From my point of view, I think most people, if forced to take a side, probably wouldn’t support carrying a gun in public if it meant they were going to see guns everywhere they went.

    Sorry but I don’t agree. People support Concealed Carry knowing they will probably interact with people carrying firearms.
    Concealed Carry licenses are being issued at greater numbers all the time — and more people are interacting with people they know who carry.

    And it is proving to be a non-issue for most of them.

    I don’t want the public thinking about how they feel about it, because I worry we’ll lose support.

    Wow, don’t think much of the non-carrying public do you?

    What strikes me about your argument is the lack of support for it regarding public perception.
    Heller has been in the news, McDonald has been in the news, story after story of people buying firearms because Obama’s administration might ban them has been in the news.
    The media jumps on every story about a concealed carry license holder committing a crime, every mass murder.

    And the public — those that you worry about — still support the right to keep and bear arms according to the polls.

    Give the people a little credit

  10. What’s the percentage of the population that supports concealed carry? Most of the fights we’ve been in with the issue we get polls thrown at us showing a majority of people oppose it. You can see that in the current fight in Iowa.

    We win because political wins are generally accomplished by determined minorities rather than by simply majority support. What I worry about is creating a determined minority against it. Brady got 28,000 names on that petition. We’re lucky Starbucks is wise. They try this again, we might not be so lucky, and in fact, Bradys are two for three pushing open carry as an issue against it. I think that warrants caution.

  11. in fact, Bradys are two for three pushing open carry as an issue against it. I think that warrants caution.

    Yes, but the Brady’s are also in the position of having to play defense…… in #1 Brady ranked California.

  12. ‘think most people, if forced to take a side, probably wouldn’t support carrying a gun in public if it meant they were going to see guns everywhere they went.”

    We could swap that around a bit to gay couples holding hands. I know LOTS of people who are uncomfortable just THINKING about gay people. But just like OC activists blowing away scores of people, the Gay people just mind their own business, and don’t go sodomizing passers-by.

    And to pick on Andrew a Bit:
    “Ordinary people with careers and PTA meetings and social circles simply don’t identify with open carry, and that, I think, makes them immediately suspicious of those who do it.”

    implying that people who carry (open or otherwise) aren’t people with careers and PTA meetings?

    This is EXACTLY the point to Open carry. The anti-gun forces have painted a picture of the 2nd Amendment support.

    He is a white male, overweight, small penis, aggressive, boorish, racist, Southern, and likes hunting, fishing and Nascar. He also has little education, and certainly doesn’t have what we would call a “career”, and certainly wouldn’t go to PTA meetings.

    And of course in reality the person in the mirror doesn’t look much like that when we strap on our guns in the morning. Conceal carry does help perpetuate that stereotype, the same way cosseting homosexuals does the same. If we only allow the more flamboyant members of our demographic control the image, we all loose.

  13. Sebastian,

    One poll is an anecdote not evidence.

    From April 2009
    Now, a recent poll reveals a sudden drop — only 39 percent of Americans now favor stricter gun laws, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

    From October 2009
    Gallup finds a new low of 44% of Americans saying the laws covering firearm sales should be made more strict. That is down 5 points in the last year and 34 points from the high of 78% recorded the first time the question was asked, in 1990.

    Over and over again, aren’t we seeing the same thing?

    And how do people change their opinion?

    They encounter something or someone that prompts them to re-examine their beliefs.

    For the majority of the public, concealed carry can not do that — by it’s very nature.

    Open Carry can and does.

    In my opinion the more stories we have about Open Carry the better — because overwhelmingly there is no violence, no threats, no problems from those that Open Carry.

    The public hears the alarm cry from the Brady’s, from the VPC’s and a couple of others — and it turns out to be nothing.

    This is just a repeat of history – the same stories, the same angles were played out with concealed carry.
    We counter the stories with facts and figures, we counter the stories with our own anecdotes of how Concealed Carry saves lives, we counter the stories with the humdrum of every day life without problems.

    And the antis loose ground.

    Worry about a minority being created?
    It’s already there and it is loosing ground.

    We win because a determined minority? Absolutely and it seems you are opposing that determined minority in their efforts.

    And why? because what might happen?
    Let it happen, if people believe, let them. We shouldn’t try to avoid the few when we should be reaching out to the many.

    Let’s show the vast majority of people that we are just like them.

  14. Yes, but the Brady’s are also in the position of having to play defense…… in #1 Brady ranked California.

    Two out of three isn’t on the defensive. That’s the Bradys successfully making an issue out of it.

  15. Bob S:

    Those polls aren’t asking specific questions about carry. Most polls I’ve ever seen on the subject show bare majority support at most for concealed carry laws. As it is, that’s pretty good. But laws are made by determined minorities. The reason we’ve won on concealed carry over and over is because we’re in the category of determined minority, and we had no counter determined minority working against us. I’d prefer to keep things that way. If the Bradys find that the open carry issue gets people off their ass and opposing our agenda, and more importantly for them, supplies a new source of funding, what has open carry really accomplished for us?

    I’m not saying that’s happening, but I am not too pleased they got 28,000 signatures on that petition. Other companies under that kind of pressure are going to fold before we can even get some opposition going. We’re very fortunate Starbucks didn’t just fold straight away like CPK and Peet’s.

  16. Sebastian,

    I disagree. The Brady’s are reduced to begging/extorting companies – individual companies– to restrict rights because the state and federal laws won’t restrict rights.

    How is that not on the defensive?

    Do they win some battles, yes.

  17. Because in the bigger picture legislative battles don’t matter much if private entities make a policy against having guns not having guns on their properties. Political fights are a bit of throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks. Part of the Brady problem is they haven’t tried anything new for a decade.

    This is their first attempt at using the open carry issue to try to raise awareness of their side of the issue, and I wouldn’t say they were unsuccessful. Two out of three companies banned carry, and they got 28,000 signatures on a petition. The significance of those names aren’t just limited to Starbucks, they can use those names for fundraising and for future fights.

    This should be of primary concern to open carry advocates, because if the Bradys play this card over and over again, the right to open carry will be meaningless, because you won’t be allowed to go anywhere. Concealed carriers won’t face the same kind of restrictions unless the establishments all post.

    It might have been desperation that forced them to take a different tact, but if it works that doesn’t much matter.

  18. “Chuck E. Cheese at noon on Saturday? That might be seen as overly provocative from a cold start, maybe having it concealed in kiddy venues makes a bit more PR sense (without decreasing your safety), at least until the undecided parents get used to the idea of exposed guns when their precious snowflakes aren’t in play.”

    I’ve OC’d in a Chuck E Cheese on a Saturday afternoon. Went to a birthday party, didn’t realize they sold beer until we had a pitcher of it in front of us. I discretely rearranged my shirt to OC.

    No one said anything. Of course, this was in Virginia and the father of the kid having the party was (at the time) an NRA lobbyist.

  19. Sebastian,

    Why don’t you interview some OC folks from opencarry.org such as Mike Stollenwerk for your blog? Many of your readers find the topic fascinating, as evident by all the comments you get on each OC post.

  20. Just to quibble about geographics, there’s no such city as “Walnut Hill” in California, there’s Walnut Creek (up north here) and Walnut (down in SoCal) – and it’s the Walnut Creek location that had the open invitation to OC folks.
    Walnut Creek is also full of hard-core Ivy League graduates (and *snerk* Berkeley grads). They are the rich BArbara Boxer voting Liberals who moved “over there” (across the Bay), and commute to work down in the Financial Center of San Francisco. It’s a very wealthy little elite community.

    And everything (as we have been taught by our Liberal teachers since kindergarten) is political – so maybe the rich but un-connected want to be able to CCW one day – a practice that is otherwise forbidden here unless you are really-really rich and politically-connected. I think it’s a start anyhow, the beginnings of a dialog, and I’d have to say that the OC people are definitely a determined minority. Braver than me anyhow.

  21. Weer’d,
    I get it, but I disagree. I think that what pushed the gay rights agenda into mainstream acceptance was Will & Grace (and all of the other TV, movie, music, stage, etc that have portrayed homosexuality in a positive, non-threatening light), not leather daddies. We don’t have that equivalent in the mass media- quite the contrary, actually.

    And I don’t mean to imply that open carriers don’t have personal ties and obligations, or that they’re inherently a liability…but open carry demonstrations in places like California exclude by their nature a lot of the people whose position in our society is dependent on the trust and acceptance of a wide swath of the public.

  22. DirtCrashr:

    I’m not against us also throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. You have to do that to a large degree. But I think you need to be prepared to catch the turds that don’t stick, and perhaps be more careful about the kinds of pooh you fling at the wall.

    In other words, staging open carry events to raise awareness wasn’t a bad idea in and of itself. Consider that to be some pooh flinging at the wall. But I’m not sure this one is sticking. Time to think about a different strategy. That doesn’t have to mean giving up open carry, but it might mean doing it in a different context.

  23. countertop,

    I think that might illustrate the point. VA (even the gun-leery part) is at a different place on the “OC normalization” scale than an urban Ohio or California.

    In VA it gets a “meh”; in CA, especially after this Starbucks thing, open carry into a House of Bounce or Chuck E. Cheese’s would be front page PSH fodder.

    The “in front of/around children!!!!!” outcry is the Brady’s biggest friend right now (and probably always has been).

    Parents, especially those unfamiliar with guns, tend to stop thinking and get defensively reflexive when their kids are “on the line” (compared to simply themselves). Win the adults on their own turf first is all I’m suggesting.

  24. Matthew,

    I agree that parents tend to stop thinking when it involves children….but most people start thinking again.

    Win the adults on their own turf? Where? Their homes?
    Where can we Open Carry any place where we won’t run into either kids or hysteria(according to what I’m seeing on the blogs)?

    Open Carry in a bar? Alcohol and GUNS — OH NO
    Open Carry in a restaurant -Kids
    Soccer/Baseball/Football Fields? Kids

    Where is their own turf?

    Another issue
    I think that we need to avoid the “us versus them” mentality. Heck many of “us” were them at one point or another.

    I see much of the elitism (not from you, but in the argument in general) that I despise from the antis.

    Let’s not Open Carry in front of the Sheeple — it might scare them and they can’t think rationally.

    Let’s not Open Carry any place someone could be offended because they won’t think it through about people exercising their rights.

    We need to be careful in how we depict those that don’t carry to avoid looking down on them.

  25. Actually, it’s the opposite of elitism. It’s the recognition that people who carry guns are a small minority, and the only way we get to keep doing it is if the rest of the non-gun-carrying population acquiesces to it. It doesn’t matter if they are hysterical or whether they just don’t like it. If non-gun-carriers turn on us, and turn on us to the point where they are willing to take action politically, we’re done.

  26. Bob,

    I was trying to differentiate between venues where kids may simply be present (OC not an issue) from venues which are for kids in particular (might be better to cover up).

    McDonalds main restaurant versus inside the Playland part.

    Outback versus Chuck E. Cheese.

    The movie theatre lobby at 9 pm versus for the Saturday cartoon matinee.

    A minor league hockey game versus a Mites (kiddy) game.

    Barnes and Noble main area versus sitting down for storytime in the kid’s section.

    See the difference I’m getting at? Not mere “presence of kids” but a venue more or less for kids. Where those venue differences fall will likely be depend on where that state/area is on the OC comfort spectrum.

    Let’s make good tactical choices when it makes sense, rather than pushing it full bore all the time simply because we can do so legally. I think the latter is probably counter-productive.

    If the undecided majority, who we need neutral if not friendly to us to maintain and expand our rights, are a drowsing dog, why go out of our way poke it just to be “right”?

  27. Matthew,

    I understand what you are getting at, I just question the effectiveness of trying to split hairs.

    I carry a firearm, I don’t carry to McDonald’s or to McDonald’s when I don’t have my 6 year old nephew. I simply carry.

    If we show, repeatedly and consistently, that carrying is an everyday part of our lives, then it doesn’t matter if kids are predominate or not.

    Trying to split the difference shows we are willing to acknowledge that gun owners who Open Carry shouldn’t be around kids or in certain areas.

    It isn’t a matter of poking the dog but letting people see there is not issue of law abiding people carrying. Not at little league games, not at Mickey D’s (playground or not).

    Isn’t there something to be gained by showing people that we don’t just exercise caution around kids but that it is an integral part of exercising our rights?

    If people John Q. Open Carry being safe and aware around kids, kind of difficult to argue that person is unsafe elsewhere, isn’t it?

  28. Bob,

    I also carry a pistol everywhere I go, usually concealed but OC when it’s more convenient.

    I’m not saying “don’t carry”, but rather thinking a step ahead and saying to yourself “Hey self, I know I am planning on going to a primarily children’s venue today at some point – mental note, take a light vest with or untuck my shirt for that hour or so”.

    It’s a compromise, not an either/or, and it isn’t in any way tacitly acknowledging or saying “guns shouldn’t be around children” as you are still carrying. It is simply, temporarily, not carrying openly in situations likely to cause problems for OC long term until the culture catches up to what we know is right.

    It’s being tactically smart short-term to win strategically long term. Thinking beyond my absolute convenience today (bringing a vest to Chuck E. Cheese’s is a pain in the ass) to ensure things don’t get more inconvenient (via freaked out undecideds advocating to bar open carry cause we pushed it on them around their kids too fast) long term.

  29. Forgot this bit.

    We already have the right to OC, we can only lose this fight by not being smart and not thinking strategically, we can’t “win it more”.

  30. So Matthew,

    When do we “push” ?

    When do we decide that it is okay to carry in a primarily children’s venue?

    After 200 years? After 50 years of Open Carry? 20 Years of being able to carry Concealed?

    When is the right time to show people that I’m a normal, law abiding human being that has children or go to places where children will primarily be?

    In Texas we can’t Open Carry, I would in a heart beat if I could. Especially during the summer.

    The same arguments have been made against Concealed Carry. That parents, that people may freak out if they know I have a concealed firearm around kids.

    So should I not carry concealed around kids because I might be caught, because some person might freak out?

    Or should I carry, should people Open Carry and be ready to discuss rationally the issue?

    When do we hold adults to the standards of being adult?

  31. Matthew,

    An add on to cover your add on.

    We don’t all have Open Carry as I mentioned in my previous comment.

    Encouraging Open Carry in other areas is a way to get it.

    There are many states that allow it but many states don’t.
    There are many states that allow it but it is practically impossible to do.

    I see us allowing the antis to dictate the terms of the debate and question why?

    If we say “Don’t carry because people might be afraid”, then we give credence to the anti’s “People are afraid to be around guns”.

    We are then trying to counter something that hasn’t happened in the vast majority of incidents.
    I would rather point out that “Hey, thousands, hundreds of thousands of people Open Carry around others and there are no problems”

  32. We never should “push” we should simply “do”.

    In VA or AK, where CC/OC is common everywhere else and no one blinks, carrying into a Sunday school raises no eyebrows. It took a lot of time for that to be the case though.

    In CA, where OC is perceived as novel (no matter how legal) and the majority is undecided about the whole thing, perhaps they should get it normalized in general public, just walking down the street or going into adult venues (like coffee shops even) in a natural (not advocacy-minded) manner, prior to holding OC rallies in Chuck E. Cheese just because they can.

    OC will always be situational and contextual to a particular locale, that’s all I’m saying. In places where CC isn’t a big deal the transition to “hey OC everywhere isn’t a big deal either” will undoubtedly be easier for the general public. WA state is a good example, TX will probably be another when you can get it legal.

    My understanding of the point of OC advocacy is to normalize it in places it isn’t already. Normalization is a process. The important thing to remember is that in many places where OC is legal it is also something that can be LOST at the ballot box. If it’s legal, why risk it standing on principle when we can make it a non-issue by exercising some temporary good judgment and patience?

    Why choose absolute exercise in every situation regardless of context when a minimal amount of effort will shortly make being concerned about it unnecessary?

    If it comes down to a voter shootout we are not a majority on this issue anywhere I’m familiar with. It simply makes sense to not pick a fight now with the undecideds (in places where that is likely) over OC if we can sneak up on them instead.

  33. I see us allowing the antis to dictate the terms of the debate and question why?

    It’s more about having a debate on ground where the unwashed masses have a chance of relating to you and coming to some understanding. Whether we like it or not, the vast majority of people can’t understand why you’d carry a firearm in public, let alone open carry one. If more people could relate to it, you’d have 50 million Americans with LTCs instead of 5 million. You’re talking about a very small number of people who want to carry a gun at all.

    I’m not opposed to the idea of normalizing firearms in the culture, I just don’t think open carry is a smart strategy for doing that. I think by now I’ve become convinced it’s not a disastrous strategy — I don’t think we’re going to see a movement to outlaw open carry. But I don’t think it accomplishes much either, and given that, even a small amount of damage to the movement becomes unacceptable to me.

Comments are closed.