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Handgun Open Carry. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should…

As RECOIL Editor Iain Harrison mentioned last week, I spent three days in Atlanta at the 2013 Blade Show, held every year at the Cobb Galleria. It was a great show and later this week I’m going to be detailing not just the “Living Ready” themed show, complete with numerous knife culture celebrities, but also several new blades and other pieces of kit.

First, however, I will rant about something else entirely – it begins with the knucklehead sighting that prompted me to vent on Facebook:

…because nothing says bad-ass like open carrying your Taurus in a Fobus holster wearing a t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off…

Make no mistake, this will not be some sort of anti-Second Amendment, anti-gun diatribe on my part. Owning and carrying a firearm is a Constitutional right. I am also firmly in the Victory First camp, to wit: if you can carry a gun every day and you don’t, then you are wrong and you are lazy.  No, I’m speaking specifically to the the practical application of open carry as a daily “tactical” choice – I question the wisdom of day-to-day reason open carry for the “everyman,” barring extenuating circumstances. But I’m open-minded enough be educated and I’m confident there are considerations I’m not immediately thinking of (see Michael Lamb’s comments below; great example of modifying my perspective).

The day following the aforementioned bad-ass sighting while Nathan M and I were driving to the airport, there was another sighting. This one was of a heavy-set male cruising down 285 South thru Atlanta in a bright sherbet orange polo on a Goldwing, rocking a left-hand universal paddle holster open carry with some model of Glock. Note: universal-style paddle holster on a motorcycle, worn by someone whose girth pushed the grip of his weapon out virtually 90 degrees to the horizontal.

Recently Steve Aryan, proprietor of Grey Fox Equipment and a well known shooting instructor (who just happens to be from my neck of the woods), posted this picture. It was taken in a burger joint just a few miles from my house. Open carry is legal in the State of Oklahoma provided you have already successfully obtained a concealed carry permit. You can read Steve’s full take on open carry below.

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In case you are wondering (or just can’t believe it) that is the picture of a young man open carrying a semi-automatic pistol cross draw with a leather snap holster, exhibiting virtually no SA (situational awareness) at all. He is not even aware that someone is openly taking his picture from four steps away. Steve, who was featured recently in RECOIL #7 in an article by Michael Seeklander of Shooting Performance, had this to say about the image:

“He was in the closest seat to the door and his gun side was facing the front door. Everyone had to look and walk by him. Also note the seat behind him and his lax attitude. It was a cluster…”

There are reasons to open carry, and places where it is arguably okay to do it, but they are few and far between. That said, I am by no means a legal expert, accomplished gunfighter, or shooting instructor – so I asked a few people who possess the qualities I lack to opine with a quick comment. Here are the responses of 10 good instructors, starting with Steve and then in the order I made contact or as I heard back:

“Anytime you implement a new method of carry or a new technique you must ask yourself a question: What are the known (factual) benefits and how specific is the application of this new method or technique? In regards to open carry I believe in almost every situation the benefits of concealed carry vastly outweigh the benefits of open carry based on known facts. There may be a time and place open carry is a good idea and that is one of the reasons I support it. However, we should not abuse this right of ours arrogantly and instead self-regulate so that others do not feel the need to regulate for us. If you were planning on robbing a restaurant and walked in guns out ready to rock and your eyes met the eyes of that kid open carrying….what happens then?”

Steve Aryan, Instructor- Shooting Performance, Owner Grey Fox Equipment.

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“I like to think of ‘open carry’ as a target indicator. I am a big fan of ‘surprise’ as a tactical advantage, and I want to take full advantage of it by carrying concealed where I am legally able.”  Jon Canipe,
Magpul Dynamics

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“I fully support those who do responsibly open carry but don’t personally choose to do so when concealed carry is available. The only reason for me is the PITA of having to keep that thing away from others’ reach or my back to a wall. Having to use a stall just to take a piss like I did as a cop sucks…I think more people should, but sadly most can’t handle the SA required to do it properly (plus the tendency for many to be a complete soup sandwich when selecting carry gear) – oh, and as an aside, CNN just played a clip of the cops in Santa Monica saying ‘report any armed people’….sucks to be a good normal guy OC’ing when LE says that to the masses…”  Erik Utrecht, Michigan Defensive Firearms Institute

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“Open carry is one of our fundamental liberties under the Second Amendment. Government legally mandates and regulates us to have insurance when we drive amongst the masses. I train and carry to protect myself and others from the masses since our government cannot. Open carry quickly sets a precedence amongst others. It represents an overt hard target and lets those willing to commit crimes that immediate consequence will result from said activities. That same precedence is seen in states that have must issue concealed carry permits. Since California has seemed to fail in that regard open carry seems to be the ONLY legal option. On a macro level it’s only divisive if it is not socially acceptable. There are places like Arizona where nobody thinks twice about it. Before I moved to California I had the same perspective you do, I’m right there with you, but now I’ve had to change my paradigm because this is my only option. It can be divisive but it is an extension of our fundamental liberties and it’s the only choice we have here.”  Michael Lamb, Stoic Ventures

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“I think you should always carry concealed if you can. It’s one thing if you’re going to the range or coming home from a match, but you know, if you’re going to buy groceries or whatever, then take that extra two seconds to cover it up. [Open carry] shouldn’t be normal practice, though it does depend on when you live or what you’re doing. The best thing to do is carry concealed 99% of the time, you can’t go wrong legally carrying concealed, but if you live where it’s okay…Wyoming is great for instance, no one looks twice at you if you have a gun on. If you’re going backpacking in the mountains, it could be better to have it on you not in your pack, but Wyoming is a different part of the country. It’s America here. It’s not like this everywhere…”  Chris Costa  Costa Ludus

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“Open carry is not as ‘evil’ as some label it. I think it needs to be looked at logically, such as why someone chooses to carry openly that moment. For example, I am from Wyoming and in the small town of Buffalo while on a hunting trip, I might choose to carry open around town getting ready to go out, or even on a run to the store. Generally speaking, in a urban area, and even in most rural areas where there are lots of people I do choose and recommend to students to conceal the weapon. This is for several reasons including the chance that the urban carrier is in a situation where there is an armed criminal action, they will then have the advantage of surprise. Secondly, it makes most people uncomfortable to see someone lugging a gun around. Its just not something that I would like to advertise in most cases, and personally feel better hiding my hand. There might also be very quick cases where I am openly carrying and decide to put fuel in my car (without going into the store), and leave the cover garment off (one of the main reasons some argued for open carry in the first place). All this said, I generally recommend concealing, but as I said, there are logical times and places for someone to have the ability to carry openly without an issue.”  RECOIL Contributor Michael Seeklander, Shooting Performance

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“While it may be legal, a lack of weapon retention training and situational awareness would make it foolish to do so, especially in a cheap holster or one lacking true retention. You can have hundreds of hours of training in weapons training, weapon retention training and SA [situational awareness] and still get killed with your own weapon.‘Well it’s my right’ is a pretty stupid reason to get killed.”  Aaron Cowan Sage Dynamics

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“Heh, I gotta tell you the truth…I look at this as a double-edged sword. I think it’s good when people see legitimate people with guns. That’s a good thing. A down side to it is, some of the people that open carry use the term deterrent when they do it, as if seeing someone with a gun will keep the bad guy from committing a crime. Nothing could be further from the truth—bad guys commit crimes all the time in front of cops. Bad guys kill cops, and cops carry out in the open. I would never carry the gun openly…even in place where it was normal, like Arizona, people carry guns openly all the time…but I don’t like giving up the tactical advantage that is concealed carry. If I’m going to draw, if I’m going to get involved, it is going to be on my terms..if five guys with shotguns come in to take the place down, I’m not just going to engage them, I may just stand by and be a good witness. I carry concealed because if I’m going to act it has to be on my terms.”

Pat Rogers, EAG Tactical

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“The debate on the pro/cons of open carry has been a contentious issue within the gun community for several years exacerbated by YouTube videos. Without addressing every tick on the pro/con list I’ll just say this: When the time comes to put good rounds on a bad guy, the first indication that I have a defensive weapon should be several CNS hits; not the pistol on my hip.”  David Merrill, MilCopp Tactical

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“It is certainly your option to do so [carry openly], however if you’re legally capable then I’d encourage you to carry concealed—reason why, you’re projecting your position. You’re announcing your capability. It’s very similar to walking around with a stack of money in your hands. It’s legal to do so, but is it wise? Your actions will encourage questions to be asked, concerns to be raised…and…when it comes to those who open carry, specifically rifles, to purposely draw attention and test the ‘intelligence’ or response by law enforcement, they make all of us look bad. Remember, everyone who carries, concealed or open is an ambassador of the right to carry and represents us all. Be smart and safe, it will benefit us and the fight for the Second Amendment…”  Matt Jacques, Victory First

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*EDIT TWO 09:59 CST 13 JUN: I was able to speak to Steve Fisher and Brannon LeBouef late Tuesday and Wednesday morning. Their comments are now below. Stand by for later today (6/13/13) for a follow-up article with the result of conversations with Rick Ector, John Pierce and Ian Houston. I was not able to reach Kyle Lamb of Viking Tactics – my guess is he’s out somewhere they speak Alutiiq stalking a Kodiak with his pocket knife. I’ve also added the ‘Editorial’ label in the category section.

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“My stance on it is this—. I like the debate of it. [Open carry] is a right, it should be done, but it should be done smartly…I also believe in the surprise element of concealed carry, the advantage, but I understand that it is our right to carry a gun openly. Which, I have done on many occasions. We’ve been doing it since the invention of a firearm. It’s kind of like the debate of 9mm vs. 45. Who cares, as long as the person is smart about it and responsible? I see no difference between the two arguments. Training is important. If you’re going to open carry, get a good retention holster and also look at getting further training with someone like Craig Douglas ECQC, something that trains you on situational awareness and close combatives…”  Steve Fisher Magpul Dynamics

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“I always have, and continue to, support the right of every American to openly carry firearms. I believe it to be a fundamental right and an important and historical component of our heritage. This country was “discovered” and built at the muzzle of an openly carried firearm, and it is the Constitutional promise and mandate of that same openly carried firearm that insures America for our children.

On the political front, it is a form of political expression whether active and deliberate or passive. While some choose the openly carried firearm as the “burning flag” or “back seat of the bus” as their tool of expression, I choose not to because I feel I am more effective in other ways. On the tactical front, I place a higher value on the element of surprise than I do the potential deterrent affect of an openly carried firearm. Concealed carry allows me to act, or not act, based on my decision rather than potentially having my hand forced due to the known presence of my firearm. In many cases, open carry removes options that concealed carry brings to the fight.
In situations where open carry is the only legal means, like for 18-21 year olds here in Louisiana, where concealed permits are next to impossible to get, or where environmental or tactical considerations dictate them, make the right decision for you. While the media and the internet tend to cast the brightest light on the negative elements of open carry, in my experience, most of the people who choose to do so, do it in a positive and responsible manner mostly unnoticed by those around them. At the end of the day, whether you choose to open carry or conceal carry, first and foremost—carry, and do so responsibly. Do so with the responsibility of training, gear choice, sound decision-making, a calm head, and an even demeanor…” Brannon LeBouef, NOLATAC Firearms

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You will find some commonality in several statements, but also a few points that I hadn’t considered (one that surprised me), which is the whole point of looking at the issue from every angle and thinking it through. I’ll close with a well-considered video from Rob Pincus, founder of Combat Focus Shooting and editor of the Personal Defense Network. He was one of the ones I was unable to reach – though I will try to follow up with quotes and input from some others soon (Kyle Lamb may be in the middle of nowhere hunting, for instance, and I’m perfectly willing to keep bothering Steve Fisher until he answers me or pulls me apart at the waist). No matter what your perspective, or which instructor’s camp you fall into (if any), carrying a gun is as much a responsibility as it is a right. If you are going to carry (and I hope you always do) then make sure the manner in which you do so – open or concealed as you choose – has been thoughtfully considered, well rehearsed and thoroughly trained.

Edit One approx 1000 10 JUN 13: Doug Holloway, the craftsman behind ATEi, noted that I don’t have any quotes from someone one who carries openly. That’s not an oversight, it’s just the way it worked out – I contacted some of the SMEs I know personally to get their opinion. What you’ve read is how they responded. If you know of a reputable instructor or SME who advocates open carry or has a strong and informed opinion on the matter, let me know. I’ll happily give him a voice here in an upcoming follow-up.

DR

Next time maybe we’ll talk about the relative merits of wearing a thigh rig on the range as opposed to the IWB that is your daily carry.