First, the definition: the act of carrying a firearm so that it is visible to anyone who bothers to look is known as “open carry.”
Next, the law: open carry is legal in Colorado in most areas of the state. The trick is that the state has left it up to the jurisdictions on where it’s legal to do so and where it isn’t. RMGO, an organization I’m a huge fan of, has some great FAQs on open carry.
So here are my thoughts:
- The overwhelming majority of people that I know who open carry do so to prove some sort of political point. If I were to attend a picnic put on by the Colorado Open Carry Association, hypothetically, then I’d be all for it. But I don’t EVER want to risk my liberty in order to make a political point. My friend Marc always says “pass the Jerk Test” when it comes to interacting with the police, although he has some more colorful words for it. Getting up in the face of a cop with “WELL I HAVE A RIGHT TO DO THIS!!!” doesn’t exactly pass that test. Mr. Mapes (remember him?) failed the Jerk Test and look where it got him.
- You have to be an expert on the law. Not a “spend a few minutes on the internet” expert, either. Did you know that Castle Rock has a ban on open carry that extends to most places accessible to the public? Yeah, me either. 9.04.165. Look it up. Oh yeah, and so does Lakewood. And Denver. And who knows how many other places. (** NOTE: see the update at the bottom of this post)
- Tactical. Let’s say you’re in a 7-11 when it gets robbed. Let’s say that you decide that the bad guy is there for a few bucks, then he’s leaving. So you’ve made the decision to stay out of this one (legal and moral issues included). If you’re open carrying, what are the odds that another civilian, also in there with you, says “hey, aren’t you going to DO SOMETHING?!” Reasonable, at least. Here’s a situation where you’ve been volunteered for service even though you’ve decided not to get involved. Someone else has now put your life in danger.
- I hear all the time that “open carry deters crime.” In some cases, I’m sure that’s absolutely true. But in other documented cases, it has actually encouraged crime. You have a beautiful Nighthawk Custom, then when another person sees it, they may very well decide to just relieve you of the burden of carrying it. So there’s arguments to be made on both sides of this one. Let’s call this a wash.
- People today get freaked out. It’s just the world we live in. I’m doing my best to change it, but we have to face reality here. If you open carry into a Wal-Mart, even if you’re 100% within your rights to do it, what are the odds that you’re going to have a chat with your favorite boys in blue? Hey, I love the police – but having a chat with them from the back of a squad car is not high on my to-do list every day. Maybe it is on yours.
- Most people who open carry do so with a full-size gun. Clearly, size isn’t a concern like it is for all of us that conceal a gun on our person regularly. But if you have a magazine that holds 16+ rounds, you’re in deep doo doo. The cops can now legally stop you and ask to see your magazine (again, not high on my to-do list), then make a claim that you didn’t own or obtain it legally, then force you to raise the affirmative defense in court… while they keep your gun and magazine as evidence that whole time. Again, to beat this dead horse, when I wake up in the morning, my primary goal is to come home safely to my family that night. Calling my wife from jail clearly gets in the way of those plans.
- A number you should remember: 8%. A completely eye-opening number to me is that 8% of all police officers killed in the line of duty are killed with their own weapon. That number is about 8% too high. And it makes my heart sink. Here are people who are trained in weapons retention, they’re used to dangerous situations, and they’re the definition of professionals. Yet 8% of them die at the hands of their own weapon. Ugh!! So if you open carry, let me ask you this: are you better than those fine officers? And if so, why?
My job is to protect myself and my family. If we’re ever, God forbid, in a situation that requires action, I want every tactical advantage I can possibly get.
Look, I absolutely get the “but it’s my right” argument. Trust me, I get it. I will argue the Constitutionality of all sorts of things we currently have on the books (like this). And yes, it’s absolutely your right, in most cases, to open carry a gun. But I honestly can’t think of many compelling reasons to do it. That’s my $0.02. Take it or leave it.
9/10/13 update: if you want another reason not to open carry, check this out. Two guys were open carrying AR-15s and got arrested. Who could have possibly seen that coming??
Jan 2015 update: the Castle Rock open carry ban was repealed!! So liberty won one there. But similar bans exist other places, including in Douglas County (although as of this writing, I’m unaware of any Douglas County areas that they’ve chosen to prohibit open carry). But the takeaway is still the same: state law allows local jurisdictions to prohibit open carry – if you choose to go down that path, you need to be absolutely 100% in tune with the law.