As of the writing of this blog post, 31 states allow open carry without a permit; 15 more allow open carry but have some stipulations and special requirements attached. Open carry is totally illegal for average citizens in only four states: New York, Florida, Illinois, and California. While the vast majority of you reading this reside in California, you likely travel to other states where you are allowed to carry your handgun openly. I still don’t recommend it in most circumstances, however, and here’s why.
It Draws Unwanted Attention
Longtime readers know that I’m as big a supporter of concealed carry as the next guy. Working behind the counter at a gun store, I frequently urged customers to get their permits, even if they didn’t plan on using them often or at all. That said, when the topic turned to open carry, I did and still do strongly discourage that practice. Walking around with a gun on your belt automatically makes you the center of attention in the convenience store, restaurant, or park. Regardless of how nice you actually are as a person, some people will be intimidated, and many will likely treat you differently—especially in areas with low rates of gun ownership. It’s the same reason you don’t walk around in public without your pants on.
Some people carry openly specifically because of the attention it gets them, perhaps in a misguided attempt to “assert dominance” over members of the general public. Trust me: it doesn’t work. I don’t care how flashy your custom 1911 is; when it’s on your hip at the grocery store, all I see is someone with something to prove. I, and the vast majority of other gun owners, think less of you for it. Normal gun guys and gals are much more impressed by people who are really good at carrying concealed under their street clothes with no one else the wiser.
It Makes You a Target
Suppose it’s your unlucky day and someone tries to start some criminal mischief. Does that Glock 22 sticking out on your belt dissuade the perpetrator? Not a chance. When a criminal sees you walking around with a gun on, you become the first target in his or her sights. Unless you’re patting down every random citizen you see, which would make you a sex offender, criminals by definition always have the element of surprise on their side. You don’t get to choose where or when a violent incident breaks out; they do. Your only advantage as a law-abiding citizen is that the perpetrators don’t know whether you’ll comply, cower in fear, run away, or fight back. The fact that you’re already broadcasting your threat level gives away any informational advantage you might otherwise have. Everyone agrees it’s unwise to flaunt an expensive handbag in a public place where someone might steal it, so why show off your handgun where someone might attack you?
When and Where Is It Acceptable?
Of course, there are a few situations in which open carry can be justified. If you’re out hunting or just hiking in an area with dangerous wildlife, it helps to have your defensive handgun outside your clothing for better comfort and easier accessibility. As a last resort against bears and coyotes, many outdoorsmen in remote areas rely on large-frame handguns that would be impractical to carry concealed. With no passerby around, the dangers of open carry don’t really apply.
Just like any aspect of firearm ownership, carrying a gun in public comes with great responsibility. In my opinion, and in the opinions of many highly experienced and well-respected instructors, open carry is generally an irresponsible way to use a firearm and should be avoided in most circumstances. Make sure you keep your concealed carry permits current and know which states have reciprocity before you travel with a firearm. Most of all, when you carry concealed, make sure you do so safely.
This article was originally posted on from San Diego County Gun Owners