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Debate: Concealed carry vs open carry gun laws

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Background and context

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.
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Deterrence: Which is a more effective deterrent?

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Pro

  • Concealed carry broadens deterrence by keeping criminals in dark. Paul Hager. "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.


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Con

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

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Pro

  • 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.
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Con

  • Concealed weapons are harder to draw against attackers. Garry E. Harvey. "Open Carry vs. Concealed Carry." Pennsylvania Open Carry.: "Assuming the attacker becomes distracted sufficiently enough to attempt a weapon draw the victim must consider the risk and added time needed to draw from a concealed location. If all factors are not in the victims favor then the attacker is likely to win as his weapon was already in the ready position."


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A target: Does concealed carrying make a person less of a target?

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Pro

  • Person carrying gun openly is first target during robbery. If you are at a McDonald's or any other establishment that, let's say, is being robbed, and you are carrying a gun openly, the assailant is likely to view you as their #1 priority to shoot or disable first. In other words, carrying a gun openly makes you into a bigger target than you would otherwise be.
  • Open carry is vulnerable to attacker trying to take weapon "The case AGAINST open carry firearms." OMFG Alaska. April 27th, 2010: "I support our second amendment, but I am against people feeling empowered to carry their legally permitted weapons openly and here is why: many aren't trained to retain total control of their own weapons and there may come a time when somebody is able to grab it away from them and use it against innocent bystanders. Americans are used to seeing police openly carrying firearms. But because they are uniformed and easily identifiable and their position in society still commands some level of respect from most of society, most would never dream of overpowering or subduing a police officer in an attempt to grab their weapon away from them and then use it against innocents. Not so for some schlub picking his nose in a Def Leppard t-shirt, who may or may not have had the proper training in order to maintain control of their own weapon. Some crazy asshole may get it in his head that Mr. Nose Picker doesn't look all that tough and that he could probably wrest Mr. N. P.'s crappy little 9mm away from him and then use it to cause some righteous anarchy. And that is it in a nutshell. Gun control in this case means maintaining control of who is in possession of ones own weapon. I am not convinced that the majority of Americans are wholly prepared to do exactly that, which is why I'd prefer that those who choose to carry a legally registered firearm keep it concealed."


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Con

  • Open carrying does not invite trouble. Garry E. Harvey. "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."
  • Attacker is unlikely to try to take openly carried gun Garry E. Harvey. "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."


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Rights: How do individual rights play into this debate?

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Pro

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


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Con

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

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Pro

  • 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.


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Con

  • 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. Nikil Arora. "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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Public affairs: Which is better for the gun-rights PR?

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Pro

  • Open carry provokes reactions and hassle "Open Carry vs. Concealed Carry." YouCanCarry.com: "Concealed Carry: This is usually the preferred method mainly becuase people don’t like other people to know that they have a firearm on their person. It draws a lot of attention (both good and bad). A lot of people don’t want to deal with that kind of attention as it may lead you to getting banned from stores, homes, or shunned by people. I personally have a family member that doesn’t like to be in the same house as me when I have a firearm. And since I always have my firearm that makes for some awkward situations."
  • Open carry causes discomfort and worsens anti-gun opinions Martin Albright. "Open carry is a bad idea." The Truth About Guns. August 24th, 2010: "The final factor is political. Post-Heller and McDonald, gun owners are feeling their oats, flexing our political muscles, feeling ten feet tall and covered with hair. But don’t forget that we’re stnority in this country. A significant, well-organized, well-funded, politically active minority, but a minority nonetheless. it’s also worth noting that a huge number of gun owners would be more than happy to support laws that restricted other people from owning guns. In that kind of political environment, Open Carry has two very negative effects. First, it rubs our opponents faces in the fact that we have guns. Gun rights may be front and center in your world, but it’s mostly beneath the radar for most people. OC creates anti-gunners and generates support from uncommitted voters."
  • Open carry risks fanatics pushing boundaries of appropriateness Martin Albright. "Open carry is a bad idea." The Truth About Guns. August 24th, 2010: "Open Carry is an invitation to a PR disaster. Lets be honest: not all gun owners are rational people. There are crazies out there. With guns. Advocating Open Carry. If one or two of those people push the limits of civilized behavior all firearms owners will get tagged as 'crazy gun owners.' That’s infuriating to those of us who consider ourselves to be mature and responsible citizens. But that’s the world we live in. Enough such incidents and the hammer will drop on some serious (read: Draconian) gun laws that will make the now-expired 'assault weapons' ban look like a pleasant memory."


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Con

  • Open carry helps educate public about guns Paul Hager. "Why I Carry. Concealed versus open carry." November 19th, 2000: "One concern I have about concealed versus open carry is a purely political and psychological one. Given all of the anti-gun propaganda, coupled with the fact that the average person is unaware of how many friends and neighbors carry a concealed handgun, the right to carry for self-defense becomes ripe for a "counter-reformation" to roll back the gains that have been made. [...] Prejudice is based upon ignorance and fear, and stereotypes are impervious to everything except confrontation with reality."
  • Many people respond positively to seeing open weapons. Tim Farrell: "Most people either don't notice or stare but, generally, 99 percent of the comments we receive are positive. A lot of people say thanks for carrying, thanks for standing up for my rights."[1]
  • Open-carry laws could help reduce costs of private security. Nikil Arora. "If US states allow open-carry of guns, why not Britain?" Christian Science Monitor. March 16th, 2010: "Why don’t we stop relying on low-paid staff at stations to provide visible security, and instead have open-carry firearms laws? Open-carry is very ‘visible’ – far more so than staff in neon jackets on station platforms, or standing behind ticket counters. It allows people to take charge of their own security. In addition, it empowers people to look out for one another as good neighbours, rather than relying on there always being someone official on hand to bail them out."


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Comfort: Is concealed carry comfortable, compared to open carry?

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Pro

  • Concealed weapons can be very comfortable. This is particularly true with the right set-up. Often, concealing a weapon means that you can use the same hip holster as someone who is openly carrying, but that you simply must wear a lengthy or baggy vest or coat to ensure that the gun is concealed. There are also chest holsters that hold the gun at around the left or right rib cage, and which are very comfortable (perhaps even more comfortable than a hip holster) and which need only be concealed by a vest. Comfort, therefore, is not a good enough reason to open carry


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Con

  • Open carrying is more comfortable than concealed carrying Concealed carry can often mean that the gun is hugged closely to the body, often around the wasteline. This can be uncomfortable, particularly for individuals with large waste-sizes. Open carrying takes the gun off the body, allowing greater comfort and mobility in the hips, etc.


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Situational: Is open vs concealed carry just a situational question?

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Pro


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Con

  • Open carry better for things where fewer people are around. Brad Kozak. "The pros and cons of open versus concealed carry." The Truth About Guns. June 30th, 2010: "there might be cases where I’d carry concealed and others, that I’d carry in the open. For instance, if I’m camping, hiking, or doing some activity where I’m somewhat isolated – maybe on a trip and pumping gas after dark – carrying in the open sounds to me like a really good idea. The kind of situation where I don’t need the element of surprise, but would be better off with a deterrent sounds perfect for open carry."


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Pro/con sources

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