“He wore his gun outside his pants, for all the honest world to feel.”
— Townes Van Zandt, “The Ballad of Pancho and Lefty,” as sung by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
Entertain, if you will, some scenarios:
1. You are dining with your young family at a popular eatery in your hometown. In I come, holding a rifle in my hands as I approach at the counter. Do you trust me?
2. You are stopping by said eatery to pick up your teenage daughter, the apple of your eye, from her shift there. You are a few minutes early and through the window, can see someone at her counter. It’s me. I have a gun. Do you trust me? Should your daughter automatically assume I mean no harm? Are you comfortable with her just guessing my intent and giving me the benefit of doubt?
3. How about me in a group of 10 others, also with guns strapped to their bodies?
4. And to liven it up, you also have a gun. What do you do?
5. If you come in with your gun out, do I trust you? What’s going through my head? Do I feel safe?
I have made the points of these scenarios quite obvious for a reason. A sensible person’s answer is “no” to the first three questions; “I don’t know, but I am getting my family/ daughter out of there!” to the fourth; and probably, reasonable people understand that my answers to No. 5 are “No,” “Holy crap, I might have to shoot someone!” and “No.”
Accordingly, I ask Question No. 6: What makes people think open-carry demonstrations are a good idea?
Please note. I did not say open carry in and of itself is automatically a bad idea, though I do wonder what on earth people — those who are not under clear and present danger (from something other than imaginary gun grabs!) — are so fearful of that they feel the need to pack heat all of the time. Gun ownership is a constitutional right. I do not advocate banning guns. But I do advocate for common sense, acknowledging the rights of others, and, well, not being a jerk.
In April, a man in Forsyth County, Ga., created a panic by walking through a park with a gun while a children’s sporting event was going on. Reports of the incident varied widely. Some reported the man had merely walked through the park with a gun in his waistband. Others reported he was making statements to the effect of : “I’ve got a gun and there’s nothing you can do about it” and that at least one child asked a parent if the man was there to kill him.
The man had a permit. If it is true that he was making such statements, however, Georgia authorities were wrong not to do anything. Because no gun permit covers harassment and disturbing the peace, which are offenses regardless of the 2nd Amendment.
If in fact he was just going about his business, that is another matter. The incident nonetheless illustrates the very simple fact that strangers cannot divine a gun-toter’s intent.
When a man shows up at, say, the airport with an AR-15, strangers and authorities alike can be forgiven for assuming the worst of him. You would think nobody with functioning brain cells would pull such a stupid stunt; sadly, you would be wrong.
In July, Peter Steinmetz brought a rifle into the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Apparently, it is legal to have firearms in non-secure areas at the airport (side note: Umm, what?), but Steinmetz was accused of pointing the gun at two people in the airport.
He denies doing so, but not having the gun. Why? You guessed it! “I decided to make the point that a peaceful citizens can openly and responsibly carry a firearm, including an AR-15, for the protection of themselves and their community,” he said, according to published reports. The medical researcher went on to say he is “an educated and responsible gun owner.”
Wow, doc. Mission accomplished! Yep, you sure showed the world how responsible you are. Also, I guess Arizona can sleep soundly under your protection. Since you’re one guy, and all.
News reports in August indicated that open-carry among individuals appears to be trending up. That is one thing, a risky thing, to be sure, as all it takes is another armed person who sees the individual as a threat.
Another thing entirely, though: Open-carry demos, in which armed men and women, without provocation, swarm into businesses with their guns in plain sight, including long guns. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., Starbucks and Target stores are among the private businesses to stand up to such pointless nonsense.
I have low tolerance for the open-carry let’s-show-’em- who’s-boss, brainless yeehaw-ism that’s been going on lately. From one gun owner to another: It’s not helping. And if the intent is to demonstrate to the world competent, responsible gun ownership, this strategy is backfiring spectacularly.
Even the National Rifle Association indicated that, at least when it first caught wind of the “open-carry demos.” The NRA backed off that stance pretty quickly, however, as it proved bad for business.
In May, the NRA posted a comment condemning Open Carry Texas’ demos as “downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about our business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary.”
The NRA has since said the statement reflected a staff member’s opinion. (Or was that a former staffer?)
According to its website, Open Carry Texas wants to: “Condition Texans to feel safe around law-abiding citizens that choose to carry them (rifles and shotguns).”
Well, I feel safer already! I know that with enough conditioning I will be able to “just tell” which shotgun-wielding stranger is a law-abiding citizen, and which one is a Felonious Frankie who relies on such naivety as he attempts to blend in, the better to victimize me.
Again, I value the 2nd Amendment. It is vital. It’s also not the only constitutional right. There is a vast difference between exercising a right and being a fetishist who walks around behaving as though his or her rights trump all other rights, of all other people, all of the time.
Whining when those other people try to point this out is singularly unattractive. While I might not have a problem with open-carry for practical reasons, I do have a problem with “protesters” who, unprovoked, decide to pick a fight; who do it for attention, and then complain when they get a fight, and lament that the attention is negative.
The NRA likes to say that the only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. The problem is that the public h as few reliable means of knowing, on sight, the difference. And we have the ill-conceived strategies of the open-carry demonstration movement to thank for upping the ante.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.