Open Carry and Law Enforcement

  1. christophereger
    The Second Amendment allows the right 'to keep and bear arms', which has always been open to interpretation. The Open Carry Movement is growing nationwide as an effort to preserve that right by exercising it publicly. The response local law enforcement can and will show to these activists can vary widely.

    The issue

    For those unfamiliar with the term 'open carry', in a nutshell is the legal and safe carry of an unconcealed firearm in an area where it is not otherwise strictly prohibited by a citizen in good standing who is not forbidden to carry said firearm. This goes back to the days of the Greeks and Romans where citizens often were armed as they went about their daily activities. In those societies, often the only people who were unarmed were slaves. Open carry is normally done with a holstered handgun carried openly on the side but in some areas where no law exists to prohibit the carry of longarms in public, is sometimes done with slung shotguns or rifles. The general thought among those who open carry is that they have faster access to their firearms if presented with a threat, provide a visible deterrent to crime and aggression, and keep the rights of the Second Amendment current.


    For law enforcement, the issue they have to address with those who would open carry is frequent calls for 'a guy with a gun' walking down the street. These calls absolutely have to be addressed. Put yourself in that responding officer's shoes for a second: all they know is that there is an armed individual that other citizens are concerned about. The officer doesn't know who this person is, what they are armed with, or why this person is carrying a weapon. In responding to this call the officer has to walk a razor thin line between preserving the second amendment rights of a person while keeping the public peace and preserving their own safety should the person in question be found to be a threat or worse, an active shooter in the opening stages of an attack.

    A good example

    Police training to deal with open-carry practitioners is evolving into one that is tactically sound from the officer safety standpoint, as well as respectful of the Second Amendment.

    One recent column on Policeone, a piece by Ron Avery, a well-respected tactical trainer, gave the following instructional points for officers to remember:

    1.) Open carry is a legal right. Regardless of where personal beliefs may lie, it carries the weight of law and cannot be ignored, pushed aside, or worked around.

    2.) Understand that - as with any belief that people feel strongly about - open carry is a form of political protest. While the majority will do what is asked of them without a lot of fuss, there will be extremists who are willing to be political martyrs by doing whatever it takes to push their agenda and raise awareness to their cause.

    3.) Targeting open carry by finding ways to charge people with other violations and then ticketing or arresting them may backfire and could be very expensive in the long run. One of the universities in Utah apparently tried this approach and it was leaked to the press. Now we run into civil liberties violations, etc.

    4.) Know the letter of the law and the interpretations of the law in various districts. Have a written document that can be referred to online or given to those parties interested in them.

    5.) Even if you don't agree with open carry, stay objective and keep your feelings to yourself. It is the behavior of the person - not the gun - that we key on. If they get annoyed and start protesting you, remember that unless they are threatening you with harm, they have a right to voice their opinion, even if they raise their voice at you.

    6.) It still takes time to draw and load the firearm. It can be done in around two seconds for well trained individuals. As with any contact, watch the hands and body language.

    7.) Follow good judgment. IF THERE IS PROBABLE CAUSE to treat them as an armed criminal, by all means do so. However, when you make contact with someone carrying openly without good probable cause, the strategy of "when in doubt, prone 'em out" would not be my first choice. Keep your distance if you can, and ask questions so you can get some indicators of the mental/emotional state of the contact prior to moving in closer.

    8.) From a officer safety perspective, at least you KNOW that they are carrying a weapon! That knowledge alone will keep you from becoming complacent. Think of it as an opportunity to practice your officer safety tactics.

    The above video is also linked in another article on Policeone as a good example of how to safely interact with an open carry practitioner.

    A Bad example

    Often law enforcement interaction does not go as well as the video above. In a recent incident in Philadelphia, a legally armed citizen open carrying was stopped for nearly 12 minutes by two officers who argued with the individual.

    They antagonized the law abiding carrier, incorrectly advised him on legal points, and finally followed him into a barber shop, loudly telling the barber that the citizen-- who they already had cleared and allowed to proceed-- was armed. This is all just after the same department paid out a $25,000 settlement just a year before in a similar encounter with an open carrying gun owner held him at gunpoint on his knees, with a sergeant threatening to shoot him.

    If you legally carry a firearm for protection, be it concealed, or open, expect an interaction with law enforcement at some point. Be prepared for this eventuality and safely, calmly explain your situation when you are stopped. There are many in the shooting community that feels irresponsible Open Carry activism in fact jeopardizes the right to keep and bear arms. Law enforcement officers have a job to do while keeping the public and themselves as safe as possible.

    We are all in this together, smile, explain yourself, follow the law, and you will be ok.

    Keep calm and carry on.

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