If you’re ever looking to start a heated discussion among gun owners, just bring up the subject of open carry. Some form of openly carrying a handgun (as opposed to concealed carrying) is legal in most states or at least parts of most states, as counties and cities might differ across a given state. Still, it remains a contentious subject. Should you open carry or not?
This is an intensely personal decision, and I’m not going to give you an answer. What I am going to give you are some pros and cons and things to consider if you’re thinking about open carrying.
The Pros of Open Carry
1. It’s comfortable. Open carry has some major advantages going for it, and the first is that it’s comfortable. For most of us, an outside-the-waistband (OWB) holster is considerably easier to wear and more comfortable than an inside-the-waistband (IWB) that might dig into or poke our hip, irritate our skin or get covered in sweat on a hot day.
2. You can carry a bigger gun. Because you’re not worried about trying to hide your gun under your clothing, the size of the gun is almost irrelevant, limited only by what you like and what’s comfortable. You won’t have to compromise between size and concealability—which is especially nice if you shoot full-size handguns well but struggle with subcompacts.
3. It’s fast. Wearing a gun outside your clothing means less to fuss with when you go to draw. You have almost instant access to an open-carried gun, without having to sweep your clothing out of the way in order to get a solid grip and draw. This is advantageous in pretty much all self-defense situations, but it might be particularly important if you’re hunting and you’re carrying a handgun for protection from fast-charging out-of-nowhere animals.
4. It helps normalize gun ownership. This is a big one you might not have considered. The more the general, non-gun-owning public sees firearms on the hips of normal, everyday folks just going about their business and harming no one, the more “normal” gun ownership may seem to them. Demonstrating that the right to bear arms is a safe and common practice could make the public more comfortable around firearms.
5. Bad guys know you’re carrying. When Willie Nelson famously sang in “Pancho and Lefty” that Pancho, “Wore his gun outside his pants, for all the honest world to feel,” he was summing up this point: When you open carry, everyone knows you have a gun. This is a pro as well as a con (more on that in a minute). On the pro side, there’s a chance your gun could serve as a deterrent. It’s quite possible that some ne’er-do-well might see it and immediately give you a failing grade on their victim interview or decide to ply their shifty trade in a different location. This is a definite win for you and possibly everyone around you.
The Cons of Open Carry
1. Bad guys know you’re carrying. On the flipside, when everyone can plainly see that you have a gun, you lose any element-of-surprise advantage you might have had in a criminal encounter. To a certain kind of bad guy, it can make you a target in more ways than one: Many people consider an open-carried gun practically a “shoot me first” beacon. Some criminals might even take it as a challenge, because …
2. It draws attention. If you’re the gray man type who just wants to blend into the background, open carrying might not be for you. While many people won’t notice, at the same time, many will. And sometimes …
3. People freak out. It’s not unheard of for nervous busy-bodies to call the police when they spot someone walking their dog while open carrying and report “someone with a gun!” These encounters generally end just fine, but it would still interrupt your day. You’re bound to come across (whether you know it or not) people who are going to be very uncomfortable seeing a gun. Even if people don’t freak out, you still have to remember …
4. It might invite unwelcome conversations. Some people can’t keep their opinions to themselves, and almost everyone has an opinion on open-carried firearms in public. Do you really want to get berated by a nosy Nellie in the produce aisle who thinks she knows better than you and who acts offended by the mere presence of a tool she doesn’t like or understand? You have to accept that open carry might occasionally open you up to critique or confrontation because …
5. You’re making a clear statement. No matter your politics, most people are going to associate guns with a specific political party. Even if they don’t, when you choose to open carry, you are making a statement that many people are going to take in a political way. This might be a pro for you, but if you don’t want to deal with the political association or just like to keep your opinion to yourself, it can be a con.
Considerations if You’re Going to Open Carry
1. Where Do You Live? I live in the Deep South in a small town. Gun ownership is extremely common, and I usually spot at least one open carrier on every trip to the grocery store. Although I don’t open carry myself, I wouldn’t be nervous to do so, because most of the cons listed above are much less of a big deal in my locale. If I were to open carry in a major city, I’d expect a better chance of an unwelcome conversation or someone freaking out. The culture and general attitude of your locale will make a big difference in how open carrying will be received and how much the above-listed cons will apply.
2. You Need a Good Holster. You always need a good holster when you’re carrying a firearm, open or concealed. I define “good” as a holster that stays put, covers the trigger and retains the gun securely. I’m not saying a bad guy is going to come up behind you and snatch your gun out of its holster and rob you with it (without data, I suspect that mostly only happens in the movies), but I am saying that retention is always important for keeping your gun secure and under your control.
3. Be Nice! When you let the world know you’re carrying a firearm, you’ve automatically made yourself an ambassador for the Second Amendment, whether you want to be or not. Make sure you’re a good one by not acting like a jerk. You don’t need to change your behavior or go out of your way to do anything different—just being a good human being is enough to help firearms ownership maintain a good image.