Open carry versus concealed carry is one of the hottest debates in the self-defense community. Some folks adamantly prefer one over the other while some are in between. In the video linked below, firearms and self-defense expert Massad Ayoob weighs in on the question, offers pros and cons, and throws in some advice for good measure. If you’re not familiar with Massad, I strongly suggest you watch this video and catch up on what he has to offer. Even if you disagree with him here, he is a literal gold mine of information on firearms and their use, especially in the defensive role.
Massad starts by saying, “I would be very comfortable if, in every state, any adult with a clean criminal record, and mental health, was allowed to legally open carry,” which is the case in some states. “One advantage,” he adds, “is that there are a whole lot of competent gun owners who don’t feel a need to carry, but overnight can become a stalking victim or have some other change in their threat profile. And if it takes sixty days, ninety days, to get the permit to carry, that can be a problem.”
That, to me, is a strong argument for legal open carry without a permit. I live in a state that does provide for permitless open carry but, as Massad notes, applying for and getting a concealed handgun permit takes time, effort, and money. It’s not going to happen overnight. When I moved here from another state, even though my carry permit from that state served as my proof of training, I still had to pay the fee and then wait for the background check and issuance of the new permit, which took about a month. In the interim, I enjoyed the right to open carry if I chose.
The debate among self-defense advocates, however, doesn’t really hinge on that. Most of us agree on the basic premise laid out above. The disagreement stems not from can we open carry, but should we open carry. Like my Dad always said, “Just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should do it.” He also told me that “It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.” In this case, it’s not always what you do, but how you do it. Those are important distinctions that Massad eloquently addresses. Let’s address each of his points separately in terms of things to consider, beginning with open carry:
Be Aware of Your Location and Surroundings
Massad notes that he is recording at the Wilson Combat headquarters in Arkansas. Open carry in that location is no big deal and even normal. But he says that if he were in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, for instance, he would not open carry because there are, “a whole lot of folks who get frightened by it or antagonized by it.” This brings us to the next point:
Open Carry Scares People
Whether we want to admit it or not, this is reality. I’ve heard the argument that it shouldn’t matter so long as the open carrier isn’t breaking the law. I’ve also heard that increased exposure to the sight of firearms will normalize it, thus reducing that fear. There may be some merit to those positions.
Massad notes that he sometimes openly carries a firearm just to gauge peoples’ reactions. He says that most people don’t even notice. They either have their noses buried in their phones or are just oblivious to what’s going on around them. He believes that some people notice but are afraid to say anything because they’re frightened by what they see as “the armed and dangerous person.” We have no way to know how many people fit that description.
Like it or not, “Open carry is not the norm. Open carry is seen as an aberration of the norm, and aberration of the norm, plus deadly weapon, is alarming to a whole lot of people.”
Open Carry Antagonizes Some People
It may seem stupid to us, but there are people who see an openly carried weapon as a challenge. These folks are fewer in number than those who are frightened by open carry, but they do exist. Massad gives several examples. First is the “male Karen” who is looking for an excuse to cause a scene. Second is the guy who thinks that, since he is unarmed, he can harass you with impunity. He may even decide to try to disarm you to show you who “the real alpha male is.” More on being disarmed below.
Finally, there’s “that guy,” or even “that woman” who may choose to lay false accusations against an open carrier to cause trouble. There are numerous examples of people telling police that open carriers actively threatened them with their firearm when no such thing ever happened.
Massad frames it as a neighborhood troublemaker, but I once saw a report claiming that many people who are frightened of guns see the mere presence of a firearm as threatening. Some of those people have claimed that the carrier directly threatened them, even though video and other evidence disproved the claim. I don’t know if such claims are purposely fraudulent or the result of hysteria. Probably some of both.
Massad notes that openly carrying your gun allows the accuser to describe the firearm accurately, giving credence to their otherwise false claim. It’s something to keep in mind.
Massad notes that the potential for being disarmed is real and has been since the advent of uniformed police. Greg Ellifritz of Armed Response has compiled a list of about thirty known incidents of open carriers being disarmed against their will. It’s rare, but it’s real enough that Massad suggests that anyone who carries, open or concealed, be skilled in gun retention techniques. At the very least, choose a holster with extra retention safeguards if you want to open carry.
There are many who claim openly carrying a firearm deters attackers. Massad agrees that is probably the case at least some of the time. The problem is that there’s no way to know for certain because deterred criminals don’t volunteer that information. He does note, however, that if an assailant sees an openly carried gun, “he is quite likely to come in shooting,” considering you as the most obvious threat and, therefore, the first target. Massad says the evidence for deterrence isn’t there to stack up against documented cases of people being disarmed because they open carried.
What About Concealed Carry?
Excellent question. Massad addresses that too. Let’s hit that the same way, point by point.
Returning to the potential of being disarmed against your will, many feel that concealed carriers are all but immune to that possibility. Massad concedes that those people are almost correct. If you carry correctly, meaning effective concealment without any “tells,” you do minimize the risk. But unless your weapon is in true deep concealment, it’s almost impossible to not show it sometimes. Remember the guy walking into Walmart a few years ago who was tackled from behind because his weapon printed a little bit?
Once again, Massad recommends becoming proficient in weapon retention. It happens.
The “Secret Weapon”
Massad believes that a concealed firearm is quite literally a “secret weapon.” If a criminal is unaware that you’re armed, he may give you an opening to deploy your firearm when he isn’t ready for it. That potential advantage really doesn’t need any explanation.
Concealed Carry Doesn’t “Frighten the Horses”
Concealed carry, done properly, doesn’t alarm the public. “Triggering,” Massad observes, is real. Despite the aspersion many of us cast on the “special snowflakes” of the world, many folks have experienced genuine trauma that gives them a sometimes-pathological fear of guns. Massad believes that we don’t have the right to alarm the public.
“I don’t think we make any friends for the gun owners’ civil rights movement by flaunting the guns in their face. So, my position on it, I want to keep the open carry option as much as possible,” but he seldom chooses that option. As the current president of the Second Amendment Foundation, Massad says, “I feel more obligation than ever not to alarm people at a time when so-called gun control is one of the most polarized debates in American society.”
Massad’s Bottom Line
“If you carry a gun, carry it responsibly. Know who is around you. Know who you might antagonize and whom you might not. And remember when you are wearing that gun visibly, you are seen as a representative of armed America. Those of us in the armed citizen population want to make friends, not enemies. The choice is yours, where it’s legal. All we ask is that you choose wisely.”
Seeing how this is always a hot topic, we’d love to hear what you think of Massad’s points. Hit us up in the comments below.