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Monday, November 29, 2021

Open Carry: Welcome Back to The Wild Wild West

saloon-doorsSomething happened in the life of the Old West back in the late 1800s, when cities and towns began springing up across the frontier. While guns were carried by nearly everyone traveling through the western frontier in those days as protection against Native American tribes and bandits, town councils almost routinely passed laws against the open carry of guns, and required that guns be checked with the law immediately upon coming into town.

In fact, the infamous “Shootout at the OK Corral” took place because Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp were attempting to enforce a no-carry law in the city of Tombstone, OK.

Well, welcome back to the wild, wild west. Open carry in Florida just may be a reality before long. On Tuesday, October 6, a Florida House committee approved a bill to allow open carry in the state.

Under the bill (a bill is not a law– yet), the million plus individuals who already have a concealed carry license would immediately be permitted to openly carry their weapons. Florida would continue to ban all weapons at airports, in schools and government buildings, and owners of private property could also ban the carrying of weapons on their premises.

Few in America dispute that the nation has a gun violence problem. Statistics provided by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence paint a rather dreary picture.

  • One in three people in the U.S. knows someone who has been shot.
  • On average, 31 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 151 are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room.
  • Every day on average, 55 people kill themselves with a firearm, and 46 people are shot or killed in an accident with a gun.
  • The U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.
  • An average of seven children and teens under the age of 20 are killed by guns every day.
  • Firearm homicide is the second-leading cause of death (after motor vehicle crashes) for young people ages 1-19 in the U.S.
  • In 2007, more pre-school-aged children (85) were killed by guns than police officers were killed in the line of duty.

How to respond to this violence seems to lie at the core of the open carry debate.

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Gun advocates see open carry as a way to deter criminal activity: criminals, they say, will stay away from places where other people are openly carrying guns. While these advocates will often shroud the issue in the second amendment argument, “the right to bear arms” is already covered by concealed carry permits, and concealed carry of handguns is currently legal in all 50 states. So, the push for open carry involves an entirely different dynamic: does crime go down when the open carry of guns is allowed? In the 1870’s western frontier, the council members would probably have answered with an unequivocal “no,” but modern day statistics—which can be used to support gun advocates’ claims– are actually very difficult to interpret.

Gun-control activists argue that the open carrying of guns in stores and restaurants will actually encourage violence. And maybe we can expect to encounter those occasional “gunslinger” types who will want to “see who’s the fastest draw,” as predicted by Orlando resident Michael Dorsey. After all, the occasional challenge to a gunfight was a very real part of life with the gun in the days of the Wild, Wild West.

Activists are joined by police on this issue, who are still called to 911 calls involving guns being carried in public. They’re not happy. The San Mateo County, California Sheriff’s Office, for example, recently issued a press release describing the problems and the unique challenges posed by open carry laws. The message was a thinly-veiled warning to the public that people can expect increased shootings of gun-toting citizens by police.

“Open carry advocates create a potentially very dangerous situation. When police are called to a ‘man with a gun’ call they typically are responding to a situation about which they have few details other than that one or more people are present at a location and are armed. Officers may have no idea that these people are simply ‘exercising their rights.’ Consequently, the law enforcement response is one of ‘hypervigilant urgency’ in order to protect the public from an armed threat. Should the gun carrying person fail to comply with a law enforcement instruction or move in a way that could be construed as threatening, the police are forced to respond in kind for their own protection. It’s well and good in hindsight to say the gun carrier was simply ‘exercising their rights’, but the result could be deadly. Simply put, it is not recommended to openly carry firearms.”

For Orlando resident Frederick Matthews, these deadly encounters are likely to be even higher in the black community.

“What’s going to happen when police are confronting some guy who’s openly carrying a weapon? If there are no witnesses around, they could just shoot him and say he reached for his gun. Are any statistics on police shootings of people who are openly carrying?” Matthews asked.

First, given the large number of shootings of unarmed blacks, Matthews’ question is certainly legitimate. And there is no question that blacks are open carrying where permitted. An ever increasing number are advocating the second amendment right to bear arms, and taking active leadership roles in aggressively pushing for open carry laws.

While lawmakers in Florida continue to debate the open carry question, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of states have already made the decision to allow their citizens to openly carry. Forty-four states presently permit open carry of handguns (13 require a special permit or license) and 31 of those allow open carry without requiring any license or permit. Only five states—California, Florida, Illinois, New York and South Carolina –and the District of Columbia prohibit the carrying of a handgun in public.

If the Florida Senate follows the lead of the House and passes the bill into law, a slew of other issues will come to the forefront. Owners of retail establishments will have to take sides, and determine whether their places of business will be safer or not by the presence of patrons who openly carry. Remember, many owners of retail chains are themselves gun-rights advocates.

In open carry states, retailers Chipotle, Starbucks and Target have told reporters that patrons are asked to leave their guns outside while they shop. Super grocer Kroger, on the other hand, has said it will abide by whatever local and state laws exist in the 34 states where it operates.

“Concealed carry—you don’t know who’s doing it and it doesn’t cause as much concern as open carry,” Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence told reporters. “One is a danger you know, and one is a danger you don’t know.”

It had been a widely held belief, before now, that because Florida (at least Central Florida) relies so heavily on tourist dollars that the sight of people openly carrying firearms might negatively impact the number of visitors to our state. Even with those special considerations in mind, however, the bill still cleared the House. Talk about the power of the national gun lobby.

“The National Rifle Association strongly supports conceal carry and open carry, and we will continue to lead the charge to protect and expand the right to self-defense for law-abiding Americans throughout the country,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, in a statement given to reporters.

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