February 13, 2014

Open carrying of handguns is wrong and invites peril

The shift concealed-carry to open-carry brings a dangerous change in psychology.

Willie Sutton, the famous bank robber, was equally famous for his answer to the question of why he robbed banks: “Because that’s where the money is.”

Ironically, criminals may think the same thing about guns if “open-carry” becomes legal, because then they will know where the guns are — not the unloaded ones locked up in gun stores but the loaded weapons strapped to the thighs of those Barney Fife types ready to draw in the event of trouble in River City.

Criminals are generally good at reading people. And, if they happen to need a handgun, they’ll just keep an eye peeled for wannabe gunslingers, size them up, and act accordingly. Their calling card? “Need gun. Will travel.”

Presently, Texas law defines where concealed weapons may not be carried, and it’s assumed that any new legislation would have the same exclusions.

Nevertheless, the enactment of “open carry” will present peculiar law enforcement conundrums. Simply questioning the visibly armed may represent a whole new jittery dimension for law enforcement.

Then there is the Second Amendment. Although open carry has never been ruled out or specifically deemed constitutional, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees “the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”

But when that weapon is concealed and legal, its bearer’s attitude is shaped by training mandated by Texas law that emphasizes avoiding confrontation and, instead, walking the path of pacification.

The psychology is simple: Texans with legally concealed weapons feel empowered. As a rule, they feel more compelled to set the confines of confrontation to acceptable dimensions. After all, they do have a concealed weapon just in case.

However, legalizing the citizenry to openly arm itself with “equalizers” is a guaranteed game changer.

Guns are scary, especially when in the hands of another person. It’s not too hard to imagine a deadly incident that otherwise would have gone in a more peaceful direction if guns were not involved.

But if two Texans are openly arguing and openly packing heat, holstered hostility could overrule reason and migrate an “incident” into an un-holstered confrontation. The only question may be who draws first — just like in the Old West.

Another possibility is a confrontation between a person with a legally concealed handgun and another who is openly carrying. Here the psychology governing the bearer of the concealed weapon would certainly take on added dimension.

The path of pacification could now seem littered with doubt, antagonism and provocation, especially if the concealed weapon carrier felt genuinely threatened by someone who is openly armed.

Also, empowering anyone to strap on six shooters in public is akin to old fashioned deputizing. Handguns carry authority. Their sanctioned display, no matter how well intentioned, represents a muted call to action.

The evolution of a “Caped Crusader” mentality coming from open carry is especially worrisome. In the absence of law enforcement during observed criminal activity, reckless impulses could compel gunslingers to intervene in situations in which they have no training, never mind legal authority – except, of course, as de facto deputies.

So, what to do? Simple: Don’t enact open-carry legislation. Instead, bury it where it belongs — under six feet of dirt on Boot Hill.

Alan Holder is a Dallas-Fort Worth freelance speechwriter and a media relations specialist. alanholder@me.com

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