Issue Report: Concealed carry vs open carry gun laws

In the United States and elsewhere, there are a variety of laws surrounding if and in what way an individual can carry a handgun on their person in public. The two most common forms are “concealed carrying” and “open carrying”. Concealed carrying involves concealing a firearm from public view on the body, usually underneath a coat, vest, at the lower back, hip, leg, or on one side of the rib cage. “Open carrying”, conversely, involves exposing a holstered handgun (usually on the hip) to public view. Many countries and US states mandate that guns must be concealed if they are carried by their owner. But, some mandate the opposite, that an individual must always openly carry a weapon if they are to carry at all. And there are many nuanced laws in-between: allowing for both methods or requiring a permit for concealed carry, but no permit for open carry. Part of the reason for the different laws is that the debate surrounding concealed vs open carry is complicated enough to allow for different interpretations and conclusions as to the best public policy. There are issues surrounding public discomfort with seeing somebody openly carrying, questions of the deterrent effects of open and concealed carry, tactical advantages and disadvantages to both approaches during an attack or criminal act, questions about whether police should be able to spot a gun owner, individual rights issues, bodily comfort considerations, and even public relations concerns for gun advocates. The pros and cons surrounding these issues are considered below.

Deterrence: Which is a more effective deterrent?

Concealed carry broadens deterrence by keeping criminals in dark.

"Why I Carry. Concealed versus open carry." November 19th, 2000

“there is some evidence of a societal benefit from carrying concealed. That benefit is called the “halo effect” or, for the economically inclined, a positive externality of deterrence. This benefit accrues from the fact that some number of people will be carrying at any given moment but no one, included a would-be assailant, knows who is carrying and who is not. Criminals, though socially deviant, are not stupid and can be expected to come up with an assessment of their risk of encountering an armed citizen. The greater the perceived risk, the greater the inhibition to act and, therefore, the more the would-be criminal is deterred. This means that people who don’t carry a gun or would never carry a gun, nonetheless are protected somewhat by the deterrent effect of those who do. If everyone who had a gun only carried openly and no one carried concealed, it would make those not carrying openly prime targets.”

One can reveal a concealed gun in order to deter a criminal.

There are many reported stories of a criminal suspiciously following or approaching an individual, the individual becoming aware of the threat, and then exposing their weapon in its holster, pointing to it, or even deholstering it as a means of deterring the further advance of the criminal.

Open carry of handguns deters crimes from happening

"Open Carry Guns Deter Crimes." Dustins Gun Blog on Opposing Views. March 8th, 2010

“by carrying your firearm openly, you may deter a crime from happening in the first place, which would then lead to a better outcome. […] We do […] have at least one documented example in Kennesaw GA where a crew of armed thugs decided NOT to commit armed robbery in a waffle house because the thug who went in to scout the place before the crime saw Matt Brannan and J.P. Mitchell openly carrying their firearms.” [See other examples in argument page.]

Open carry deters; most criminals are rational.

"The Pros and Cons of Open versus Concealed Carry." The Truth About Guns. June 30th, 2010

“yes, there are situations where a crazy person determined to attack a particular location would attack irregardless, shooting at the known armed people first, but that situation is rare relative to the typical crimes committed by criminals who are simply looking for an easy target.”

Open carrying doesn't tell criminals others aren't concealed carrying.

Many people can open carry and many others can concealed carry at the same time in the same community. Therefore, a criminal does not know that because one person is open-carrying and another is not open-carrying that the other is not concealed carrying. The broad deterrence of criminals not knowing is therefore still preserved with open-carry.

During crime: Which is more effective during attack/crime?

Concealed carry preserves element of surprise against threats

"Open Carry vs. Concealed Carry."

“From a tactical standpoint concealed carry has the benefit of surprise. A criminal that is not aware of your firearm will not pay any special attention to you. That may give you an opportunity to get into a good position to use your firearm to stop a crime.”

Concealed weapons buy time to draw gun.

An extension of the above argument is that while an open carry gun might be slightly faster on the draw (perhaps a second or two), a concealed carry gun offers the element of surprise, which buys an individual plenty of time to choose the right opportunity to draw the gun on the unsuspecting assailant. In addition, with an open carry gun, the assailant knows exactly what the person is reaching for, so will move faster to try to overcome them. With a concealed carry gun, the person to act casually and inconspicuously while reach for gun, perhaps saying something like, “OK, I’m reaching for my wallet.” There are many situations in which, therefore, a concealed carry weapon buys more time than an open carry weapon.

Concealed weapons are harder to draw against attackers.

"Open Carry vs. Concealed Carry." Pennsylvania Open Carry.

“why would the CRIMINAL want to fight an armed opponent for no reason? The CRIMINAL would have to lack any kind of judgment, have no fear of death and believe he is the fastest shooter on earth, not to mention invincible to bullets. Finally, how exactly is the ARMED CITIZEN the one ‘looking for trouble’ when the CRIMINAL prompted the confrontation? Was it not the CRIMINAL ‘looking for trouble’ by targeting the ARMED CITIZEN and pushing him into a self defense situation? This line of thinking is similar to accusing a rape victim of wanting to be raped because she was supposedly dressed provocatively.”

Open carry does not make you more of a target than other things.

"Open Carry" Simple musings from a guy with guns. June 24th, 2008

“Open carry is not any more likely to make you a target in a robbery than a gold watch.”

Attacker is unlikely to try to take openly carried gun

"Open Carry vs. Concealed Carry." Pennsylvania Open Carry.

“The second of the two concerns the CRIMINAL successfully taking the weapon from the holster before the ARMED CITIZEN can react. This has happened to police officers and so it could happen to the ARMED CITIZEN as well but consider this following difference. In all but a minority of cases, the CRIMINAL took the officer’s weapon once being confronted by the officer or while being placed under arrest. The act was one of desperation as the reward of escape outweighed the risk of taking the weapon from the officer. Assuming the weapon is properly holstered in a professional manner, the ARMED CITIZEN would only pose a threat to the CRIMINAL within a self-defense situation; the risk to the CRIMINAL would be overwhelming in attempting to steal the weapon as this act would trigger the self defense reaction from the ARMED CITIZEN.”

Rights: How do individual rights play into this debate?

That some "can" open carry doesn't make it a good idea.

"Open carry is a bad idea." The Truth About Guns. August 24th, 2010

“[Open Carry] advocates claim they’re simply capitalizing on the fact that there’s no law against strapping on a gun and walking around in public in most parts of the United State (even in urban areas). Yes, but— there’s no law against carrying a gun openly for the same reason as there’s no law against break dancing in the middle of Death Valley in July while wearing a fur parka. It’s something that very few people would even consider doing.”

Concealed carry adequately protects right to bear arms.

The right to bear arms is fully protected with concealed carry laws. The US Constitution does not specify what guns and what types of carrying methods should be lawful. It specifies only that “bearing” is a right. A restriction that disallows open carrying and allows concealed carrying is, therefore, fully consistent with the US Constitution’s right to bear arms.

Right to bear arms confers right to carry openly.

If the Second Amendment confers a right to bear arms, as the Supreme Court officially ruled in 2008, then it is a fairly logical extension of that right that one should be able to exercise it openly. Making concealment a condition of that right hardly makes it a right at all. Free speech rights allow an individual to openly scream absurdities through a megaphone in Times Square. A right to bear arms, analogously, should also preserve the right to openly express that right.

Open carry is an opportunity to express individual rights.

Expressing one’s rights openly to the public is an uplifting experience for a citizen. Carrying a gun openly is a valuable opportunity for law-abiding citizens to express their right to carry a weapon, connect more viscerally with their broader rights and the laws that enshrine them, and inform others of those rights.

A right unexercised is a right lost.

If a right is not exercised, then individuals, bystanders, and even law enforcement officers will cease to think of it as a right and will infringe upon it when it is actually exercised. It is often seen, for example, in States that have open-carry laws on the books, that Cops, because they rarely see people openly carrying, will stop, question, and even detain an individual on the grounds that they are causing a “public disturbance” by merely carrying openly. This would not happen if people were more used to seeing guns carried openly. For this reason, a right unexercised is a right lost.

Bystanders: Is concealed or open carry more respectful to bystanders?

Bystanders often feel intimidated by openly carried guns.

It is common that bystanders will feel intimidated and threatened by an open-carry weapon. A deadly weapon gives another individual over-powering lethal force, and bystanders are forced to make judgments as to whether the person bearing the weapon is likely to use that force responsibly or brazenly. Forcing other citizens to make this kinds of life-or-death calculations and run flush with nervousness and apprehension is simply disrespectful. This is particularly true in a town or culture that is not accustomed to seeing weapons openly carried.

Many open-carry merely to incite reactions.

TripleDigitRide on Tennessee Gun Owners Association Forum in 2008

“Because I see no reason, other than the ‘I can’ factor, I would presume that a large percentage of people who OC want to gain the attention of others. In a nutshell, it’s negative attention seeking, IMHO.”

Open carrying need not be seen as intimidating.

The idea that openly carrying a weapon is about brandishing it and intimidating other people is misinformed. It relies on a prejudiced view of the intent of gun owners and those that choose to carry weapons openly, ignoring the fact that they are probably attempting to a. deter and prevent crimes against themselves and other citizens, b. carry their weapon comfortably if they are intent on carrying, c. offer easier access to a weapon in case of need, d. express one’s second amendment rights, along with other reasons offered in this article. If people take the time to try to understand these reasons, instead of passing judgment, then they should not feel intimidated.

Law-abiding citizens carrying openly makes people feel safer.

"If US states allow open-carry of guns, why not Britain?" Christian Science Monitor. March 16th, 2010

“The BBC news on Thursday night featured a report on the upcoming Supreme Court decision on the Chicago gun ban; litigation launched after the successful case of DC v Heller, which overturned a similar outright prohibition on handguns in Washington DC. […] the BBC’s report was worth watching. It largely focussed on the effect of laws already in force in Wisconsin, which allow the open-carry, but not concealed-carry, of handguns. It showed how responsible, law-abiding citizens carrying guns openly leads to people both feeling and being safer.”

Open carrying helps foster politeness between citizens.

"Open Carry" Simple musings from a guy with guns. June 24th, 2008

“I suspect that people are much more likely to be impolite when they do not know for a fact that you are armed. I do not think of this as intentional intimidation on my part, but as the old saying goes; ‘An armed society is a polite society.'”

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