Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Open Carry: a real-world perspective

I remember when I first started carrying a handgun on a regular basis: I was like many other handgun neophytes, struggling to find a comfortable holster and trying to decide which method of carry was the best, open or concealed. I was always naturally drawn to concealment (we'll come back to this), and chose that method of carry from the start, but I recall a conversation I had with a more seasoned handgun shooter shortly after I began to carry a handgun everywhere with me. He told me, "If you carry it in the open, then everyone can see it, and that in itself is a crime deterrent. Yes sir, carrying my firearm this way has kept me from some trouble, I'm sure of it." It sounded like good logic, but over the years I have come to a realization about open carry, brought on through my own experiences and lots of training. This realization ties into the popular concept known as "the magic talisman", and it can be a dangerous way to think. A firearm is not a magic talisman that through mere presence alone keep bad people at bay.

How people initially perceive you can affect their interaction with you.

Before we get any further, a quick word on the definition of open carry and concealed carry. First, before you consider applying anything in this post to your life, be sure to check the laws in your state and any states you may travel to in regards to carrying a firearm. If you live in Arizona, as I do, then you're blessed to enjoy the full liberty of being able to carry a firearm as a law-abiding adult with few restrictions. Second, when I reference open carry I mean that part of the holster and/or firearm is visible in such a way that the casual observer would notice that you have a firearm. When I reference concealed carry I mean that the firearm and holster, or whatever method of containment you are using, would give no indication to the casual observer that you have a firearm. There are many products out there that can make large firearms effectively 'disappear' on even small framed people (I do it everyday), so seek out the appropriate gear for your lifestyle. If you want more info, check out some of the reviews on our other blog, Equipment Reviews, or come and take some courses with Independence Training.

Let's start with the most commonly referenced advantages of the open carry of firearms, probably the greatest of which is that it provides easier and faster access to your firearm. With no clothes to pull out of the way and nothing to get hung up on, draw speeds can be faster than with concealed carry, and less likely to get tangled up in a shirt or coat. Open carry may also be a deterrent to people with nefarious intentions, as they want to choose a time of attack that favors them the most and you the least, and the presence of a firearm in the hands of a law-abiding citizen may sway their frame of mind as to who has the advantage. I have also heard that open carry is important because a 'right not exercised is a right lost,' and we can certainly see how that has played out in other locations across the U.S. as well as around the world.

Now I want you to stop reading for a minute and take some time to change your mindset; that is, I want you to view open carry from the perspective of an individual who is anti-gun, or at least uninformed about firearms, and I also want you to try and think like a bad person, or at least someone who does not think that obeying laws and having good ethical values is the path for them. Let's start this exercise with the photograph below.

What's the first thing you think of when you see this?

My first observation is "stop looking at the cheap bread, it has enriched flour in it and that's bad for you." My next observation is that she is carrying a 1911 handgun in condition 2 (hammer not ready to fire), possibly condition 3 (empty chamber), and that is a bad idea for that particular firearm if it has to be quickly put to use for self-defense. But as an anti-gun person, whether just uninformed, irrational, or a hoplophobe, you are not going to view it as positive. Imagine yourself as a shop owner who has recently been robbed or assaulted at gunpoint, and someone carrying a firearm just walked into your shop. Do you think they're a bad guy just because they have a gun? Hopefully not, but how you perceive them initially may not be very optimistic. Often times the open carry of firearms can be seen as bully tactics or even just 'showing off ', especially if you are in a location where the carry of firearms is not common place. Stories abound concerning law-abiding citizens who had to explain their carry of a firearm to local law-enforcement following a call from a concerned citizen, and while they were within the scope of their legal rights, they still had to give up time and energy to have that conversation. And don't forget that depending on how the conversation with law-enforcement goes, a charge of disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct is not entirely unheard of. While open carry may give you the opportunity to educate some people about laws concerning the carry of firearms and the use of legal self-defense, this is an exception and not the rule. Regardless, in my experience anyone who can have their opinion so easily swayed while standing in a checkout line at the grocery store can just as easily have it swayed back the other way at a later time without some serious research and/or training.

As for discouraging bad behavior, it very possibly could, but again that is from the view of a law-abiding person. You may look at the lady pictured above and say "Holy cow! Big gun for a little lady, I don't want to mess with her!" Of course you don't, because you didn't want to mess with her in the first place - but you are not a bad person and do not think like one. Remember that locks just keep honest people honest, and the same concept applies here. In fact, the presence of a firearm in some situations, such as road rage and similar confrontations, has only served to increase the level of hostility in the participants. Imagine that you just cut someone off in traffic, perhaps by accident, and then drove to the store. The person you cut off is following you, enraged by something already going wrong in their life and now further enraged by your actions. As they follow you, they are simply getting more and more angry, and as you pull into a parking space and exit your vehicle, this person pulls up behind you, blocking your escape route and leaping from their vehicle amidst a hail of profanity aimed at you. Upon seeing your openly carried firearm, they fly into an even greater rage, asking you if you feel extra tough with that gun on, and mocking you for having to carry it in the first place. The chances of de-escalating this situation with some verbal judo have diminished greatly just due to the presence of a firearm, and your options are limited with your 'ace-in-the-hole' exposed and known. Again, don't think of how you would react upon seeing someone carrying a firearm; think of how someone with less ethics and value to life would think. Now let's take a look at at even greater threat: the gun grab.

Are you ready to respond if someone makes a move for your firearm?
Do you have the necessary defensive skills to react and turn the tables in your favor?

Massad Ayoob, renowned lethal force instructor and expert witness whom I have had the pleasure of training with, had this story to tell concerning gun grabbers: "The guy who reaches for your gun may be more than a show-off, and much deadlier. A Midwestern gun-shop owner chose to wear a Colt .45 ACP, in hopes of intimidating potential robbers and preventing bloodshed all around. The day came when a man entered the store and asked him for a box of ammo on a shelf located behind the shop owner. As the gun dealer turned to reach for it, the man deftly snatched the gun out of his holster from behind. The merchant turned to see his own pistol pointed at him by a man who was pulling the trigger. What saved the gun dealer's life was that he carried cocked and locked, and the bad guy hadn't yet realized that he needed to release the safety catch before he could shoot. The store owner dove for a concealment revolver under the counter, and by the time the bad guy had figured out how to operate his stolen gun, the good guy was already returning fire. This incident had a happy ending, but you can imagine how much uglier it could have been."

If that doesn't make you think about the reality of gun grabbers and how random people may perceive you, check out this video:

Just because you are big and tough, or wear cool Tapout shirts, or even carry a firearm, it does not mean that bad people won't try and take what you have. They are interested in a pay day, of various kinds, and if you have what they want then they are coming to take it, at a time that favors them the most and you the least. If you don't think that bad people think like this, then you are already one step behind them. Take a look at that picture of the lady in the grocery store again. You know what I see looking through the eyes of a bad guy? I see an older woman carrying a gun, which means that physically overpowering her is likely for me. I see that she does not have the hammer cocked, which means that her confidence and her ability to use her gun is likely low, and that retention holster will probably further impede her ability to react when I attack her at arms length. If I can occupy her right hand I can keep her from drawing that firearm while I draw it instead, because I practice with retention holsters (in this case, a SERPA) for the sole purpose of knowing how to take guns from people. Remember: bad people often use ambush tactics, and practice on how to take your gun away from you. If there is going to be an ambush, I'd rather that I be the one doing the ambushing, and open carry more often than not will rob me of that opportunity.

Here's another video showing an example of how things can really happen. This video is a compilation from a 3 day Shivworks Extreme Close Quarters Concepts (ECQC) course that we hosted back in April 2013, and it deals specifically with weapons retention and defensive tactics at arms length. Watch what happens to those who chose to open carry, specifically at 1:14 and again at the 2:10 timeframes in the video. As a side note, I concealed carry during these exercises and was not disarmed at any time during the class, but rather was able to draw and deliver shots on several occasions when the opportunity presented itself - two of these instances can be seen at 1:28 and again at 2:20. Doesn't mean I always stopped the attacker with bullets, but I was never disarmed and was able to shoot until my gun was empty or malfunctioned.

When there are no rules, you need to stack the deck in your favor. 

Am I saying that open carry is wrong? Not at all, and even do it myself when I feel it's appropriate. I don't want to generalize this, so let me give you some personal examples. I open carry when I am hunting, hiking, camping, driving in a vehicle, and also any place where it's legal for me to open carry but not legal for me to concealed carry, such as the state of Nevada with my AZ CCW. When I open carry, however, I work very hard at not drawing attention to myself. I am a clean cut person who does not wear "loud clothing," I do not speak loudly or do things to make myself the center of attention, and I guard my gun side and try to avoid making my firearm an object of attention. That all being said, let's take a look at the following pictures, again through the eyes of the anti-gun person and the criminal:

Look hard at these pictures until you see the firearms 
that are present. Hint: you won't.

Thinking as an anti-gun person, do you see anything that would make you call the cops, take the opportunity to "prove a point", or generally make you worried, scared, or upset? As a criminal, do you see anything that would make you target these people specifically, such as the presence of a firearm? Both of them are carrying firearms in these pictures and have easy access to them, yet they have them hidden, out of plain sight, and out of the reach of others. Keep in mind the Firearm Safety Rule of 'Have control of your firearm at all times.' When you are carrying a firearm open or concealed, are you in complete control of it, no matter what happens? If you get knocked on your back or someone makes a move for your gun, will you still be in control? This brings me back to the beginning of this post, where I mention that I have always been drawn to concealed carry. This is because I feel that concealed carry gives me the chance to decide whether to get involved with my firearm or even get involved at all. It's my ace-in-the-hole, and no one knows I have it until I am using it. I also train with it constantly, drawing from concealment with multiple types of cover garments, from t-shirts and dress shirts to jackets and heavy coats. I know how to retain my firearm if someone sees it and makes a move for it, and I can employ other techniques using my hands and other tools to assist the bad guy in changing their behavior. This confidence did not come easily or quickly, but rather through the pain of learning, mostly with trial-and-error and even some real-world experiences.

Is open carry or concealed carry the best choice for you? Only you can decide, but do so based on and intelligent and logical look at you own situation and lifestyle, and not the opinions of those who may or may not be as well-informed about how things work in your world.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.

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