Far from reassuring the public, open carry ― the right to carry unconcealed weapons ― just might scare Americans more than crime itself.
As you’ve no doubt heard, the latest preoccupation of gun rights advocates is “open carry.” That’s right: just like the Old West (or current Afghanistan or other dys- and barely functional states). At Salon, Matt Valentine writes:
In Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, gun rights activists have been staging protests, demanding broader liberty to display their guns in public rather than keep them concealed under clothing. Major candidates in statewide elections have voiced support for open carry, asserting that the conspicuous display of firepower will deter crime.
… In an online list of goals, the open carry activists at Come and Take It America say they want “to condition Americans to feel safe around those of us that carry [guns].”
As with all weapons, half their value is defense, the other deterrence. Concealed weapons, as well as weapons in the home, are of no value as deterrents because, in order to keep criminals at bay, deterrence depends on advertising what’s on your person and, at home, the existence and size of your arsenal. But, Valentine explains:
For decades, though, social scientists have studied the way people behave around guns, and they’ve found that all of us — not just criminals — will be affected by seeing guns in our everyday environment.
… Even when you’re not holding a gun, you can be psychologically affected by seeing one. Since 1967, researchers have been observing the “weapons effect,” a phenomenon in which the mere presence of a weapon can stimulate aggressive behavior.
As in “draw, pardner.” Yes, open carry, if implemented, would no doubt result in more gun violence. What gun “right” doesn’t? But let’s go ahead and let them open-carry to their hearts’ content. Say what? Valentine writes about a gun-control meeting in Arlington, Texas picketed by men openly carrying rifles.
“Their perception of what they’re doing is so different than the majority of people watching them,” says [one of the activists]. “They think they’re just showing up saying, ‘see, we’re a bunch of nice guys who just happen to be carrying around semiautomatic rifles.’ Whereas for people who are out and about in a suburban area, it’s terrifying — especially considering the climate.”
See what’s happening here? Most Americans are shocked and saddened by mass shootings, especially Newtown since the victims were children and educators. Many, however, sense the lack of logic implicit in disarming while criminals and the mentally ill are stockpiling arms. Much as others would like to see background checks extended and magazine sizes limited, they soon lose sight of Newtown and gun control as they’re once again swallowed up by the activities of daily life and the pressures of making ends meet.
But the sight of citizens walking around with rifles in hand or their handguns showing is almost certain to trigger our national PTSD about massacres, such as Newtown, and push gun control to the forefront of our consciousness. The knowledge that those publicly packing are licensed won’t keep mothers from doing a modern version of hiding their children in their skirts and hustling off. It won’t be long before they’re putting their heads together with friends and activists about the best way to restore civil society.
Open-carry advocates think they’re advertising the presence of their arms and deterring crime. In fact, they’re making themselves the best advertisement for gun control.