Many in the Second Amendment community advocate open carry, or wearing a handgun in a visible holster in public. I for one would like to see open carry made legal in all 50 states with no permit required, forbidding only those with felony convictions or diagnosed mentally incompetent from doing so. There are two reasons for this. One is that it would shortstop cases of “illegal open carry” that can be made in some states if the wind blows a coat open and reveals a legally concealed handgun. The other is that, because it takes a while to get a permit, it would be an avenue for a good person who becomes a stalking victim overnight to instantly arm themselves for self-defense without waiting for paperwork to be processed. However, I don’t think it’s wise at all to walk down the street or into a place of business other than a gun shop openly carrying a rifle or shotgun.
Stories of open carriers being hassled are legion, and those who advocate open carry need to realize some of the other things they might be opening themselves up to. Now, concealed carriers, don’t get smug—remember, careless “concealed carry” that reveals the handgun in effect becomes open carry. Then you might even be more vulnerable to a disarm because you are more off guard, not realizing your gun is exposed and has become a target for thieves, psychos and anti-gunners with anger issues and zero impulse control.
What we’ll call Case One took place in Overland Park, Kansas, in October of 2016. Ricky Paul Smith was arrested and charged after shooting another man. According to reports, the victim’s legally concealed handgun became visible, and Smith snatched it away, pointed it at the owner and another man, then shot the owner in the leg. Smith is now awaiting adjudication. (Remember the part about the concealed gun becoming visible, turning it into an open-carry setup?)
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Second Amendment supporter Miguel Gonzalez has a blog, gunfreezone.net, where he often documents the seething, irrational hatred some anti-gun activists have toward gun owners. I recall the one where the “anti” said if he ever saw someone open carrying he was going to Mace the person, snatch their gun and hold them at gunpoint for the police. It may be that someone equally violent and delusional acted out that fantasy in Case One. Time will tell, and of course, Ricky Paul Smith is innocent in the eyes of the law until he is adjudicated.
Case Two: In 2011, two 16-year-old delinquents followed open carrier Blaine Tyler, 48, into a convenience store in Richmond, Virginia, and snatched his gun from his openly carried holster. When he chased them, they turned on him, and he was shot to death with his own pistol. The young thugs were later charged with another robbery-homicide with Tyler’s stolen gun.
The Burden Of Liability
In those first two cases I mentioned, the “liabilities incurred” by the open carriers took the form of bullets entering their bodies. There are also some problems with the courts waiting in the weeds. Let’s look at two different situations involving neighborhood feuds. Each involved the sort of person who considers it his mission in life to harass his neighbors. Such people are sometimes referred to as “That Guy.”
Case Three: Here, That Guy was the open carrier. His name was Raul Rodriguez, and in 2010 in Harris County, Texas, he decided the neighbor he disliked was hosting too loud a party. Strapping on his pistol openly—then illegal in Texas—he hoisted a camcorder onto his shoulder and strolled to the neighbor’s property, rudely demanding that they quiet down, recording the whole time. Not surprisingly, party-goers saw the ominous gun on his hip and reacted angrily and defensively. Saying for the benefit of the camera, “I am in fear for my life” and “I will stand my ground,” Rodriguez drew the pistol.
People tried to disarm him and he opened fire, killing the neighbor and wounding a guest before others at the scene overpowered him. The district attorney who prosecuted him told the jury, “He used every CHL [Concealed Handgun License] buzzword in the book.” A witness testified that prior to the shooting, Rodriguez had told her he could kill anyone he wanted and get away with it by simply saying, “I was in fear for my life.”
Raul Rodriguez, convicted of murder, is now spending the rest of his life in a Texas prison. Many believe that his bullying behavior reinforced with the openly carried gun was one of the sparks that ignited the tinder that tragic night.
Case Four: The flip side of Case Three is one called in by a listener to my old friend Tom Gresham’s nationwide radio show, Gun Talk Radio. This time, That Guy was reportedly a vindictive and untruthful next-door neighbor. That Guy initiated an exchange of hostile words as the open carrier was walking from his house to his car in the driveway, his handgun exposed on his hip. He simply drove away. He was arrested later; it seems That Guy had called the police and falsely claimed the open carrier had pulled the gun on him. Because the man’s gun was clearly visible in a holster on his hip, That Guy was able to accurately describe the firearm and the manner of its carry, which lent credence to his false allegation. Tom’s caller eventually had a happy ending, but it cost him significantly in defense attorney fees, not to mention aggravation.
Case Five: In New Hampshire, a woman apparently very much afraid of guns drove past “No Trespassing” signs onto the rural property of a longtime resident. According to the resident’s account, the woman was quite rude when she explained she was lost and demanded directions, and he ordered her off his property. The next visitors to his home were the police.
The man had been carrying his Sig Sauer P220 openly on his hip during the discussion. Though he swore he had never touched it or threatened to use it, she said he had pointed it at her—felony aggravated assault if true, with several years in prison to be expected. After a long legal ordeal, the open carrier was finally exonerated.
Cases Four and Five show us a risk of open carry that its advocates never seem to address: It allows anyone who wishes to make a false accusation out of pure malice to do so credibly because they can describe the gun the open carrier will later be found to be wearing, and will sound credible when they say, “He drew it from a holster on his right hip and pointed it at me!”
When the responding officers find a gun fitting the complainant’s description in a holster exactly where the complainant said it would be, it tends to confirm the false allegation.
Case One validates the cliché “Concealed means concealed!” That and Case Two might never have happened if the suspects couldn’t have seen the guns they snatched and shot their owners with. These incidents also reinforce the advice that if you are going to carry openly, it’s wise to use a snatch-resistant security holster, and perhaps carry your gun with the safety on to mitigate a snatcher’s ability to quickly shoot you with your own gun. And, of course, it’s wise to have strong weapon retention skills and options.
Finally, the conventional wisdom still holds that “out of sight is out of mind,” and a gun unseen does not tempt bullies and psychos to use that gun as the focal point of harming an innocent, law-abiding armed citizen, whether with gunfire or false accusations.