POSITION: The Brady Campaign opposes the unregulated open carry of guns in public places and supports the rights of businesses to keep out persons who seek to carry firearms, whether openly or concealed, onto their premises.
Q. What does “open carry” refer to?
A. “Open carry” refers to the practice of carrying firearms, including assault weapons and handguns, in public so that the firearm is visible to others. It is contrasted with “concealed carry,” which refers to carrying guns in public so that they are hidden from view.
Q. How does regulation of open carry differ from regulation of concealed carry?
A. With the exception of Alaska and Vermont, states regulate the carrying of concealed weapons, at least by requiring a license to carry, issued only after certain legal requirements are met. In contrast, in the majority of states open carry is virtually unregulated. Click here to see the law in your state.
Q. Why is open carry a problem?
A. More and more gun owners, seeking to “make a statement” about their right to have a gun, are openly carrying guns, particularly pistols and other handguns, in public places like restaurants and coffee shops, as well as to political events like town hall meetings.
For example, in the summer of 2009, a man stood outside the venue of a Presidential appearance on health care reform in New Hampshire with a pistol openly strapped to his thigh (Murray, 2009). A dozen people openly carrying guns were among the protestors outside the convention center in Phoenix where the President was giving a speech, including one who walked around with an AR-15 assault rifle strapped to his back (Associated Press, 2009). Groups of gun owners also have begun gathering at restaurants and coffee shops, with their handguns openly displayed.
The open display of firearms in public places is inherently threatening and intimidating, and poses risks to those nearby, to law enforcement and to the community. For example, when open carry has occurred in retail stores, other customers quickly become alarmed and the police often are called to the scene, creating a volatile and potentially dangerous situation. As a Sheriff’s Lieutenant in California put it, “Open carry advocates create a potentially very dangerous situation,” because when police respond to a “man with a gun” call, they have no idea what the intentions of the gun carrier may be and “the result could be deadly” (San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, 2010).
Everyone should have the right to sit in a coffee shop or a restaurant with their families, including their children, without being confronted with the threatening presence of openly-displayed guns.
Q. If the law allows open carry in most places, then what can businesses do to prevent it?
A. Even the states that permit open carry also permit businesses to implement “gun-free” policies by barring members of the public who are carrying guns. Just as retail stores may, for example, bar patrons who are not wearing shoes, they may similarly bar patrons who are carrying guns. Businesses may enforce such a policy by posting signs at prominent places within the premises. For example, when groups of gun owners began gathering at coffee houses and restaurants in Northern California’s Bay Area, two national retail chains – Peet’s Coffee & Tea and California Pizza Kitchen – announced that they would not allow open carry of firearms in their stores (Yoo and Garrone, 2010).
Q. If gun owners can simply get a license to carry concealed, why do they want to openly carry guns, particularly concealable handguns, in public?
A. There may be a variety of motivations for gun owners to want to openly carry firearms. For example, some may want to carry guns in public, but cannot meet the requirements for a concealed carry license or may be in jurisdictions with strict limitations on concealed carry. Increasingly, though, gun owners are engaging in open carry to make a symbolic statement about the importance of guns to society and their opposition to restrictions on guns. There are, however, many alternative ways of voicing these views in a free society without introducing the dangers of guns into public places.
Q. How does open carry relate to the overall agenda and tactics of the gun lobby?
A. Open carry is part of a broader campaign, led by the National Rifle Association, to force guns into every corner of American society by “normalizing” the carrying of guns in public places, openly and concealed. The NRA led the effort to get states to revise their laws on concealed carry to deprive law enforcement authorities of the discretion to fully evaluate applicants for concealed carry licenses, requiring the police to issue such licenses to virtually anyone who could pass a criminal background check. The NRA is now pressing for legislation to legalize concealed carry in bars, churches, workplace parking lots, parks, college campuses and elsewhere. Open carry is simply another way of advancing the NRA’s “any gun, anywhere, anytime” philosophy. The NRA’s vision of America is one in which there is nowhere we can go, or bring our families, and escape the guns.
In addition, open carry is consistent with the gun lobby’s longstanding tactic of using intimidation to advance its extremist views. The appearance of openly carried guns at political events certainly communicates the message that, as the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre put it, “The guys with the guns make the rules” (Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 2009).
Q. Aren’t gun owners who are openly carrying guns simply exercising their Second Amendment rights?
A. Although the U.S. Supreme Court held, in its 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to possess guns in the home for self-defense, it has never held that the Second Amendment protects the carrying of guns outside the home. Thus, state and local governments are free to regulate, or prohibit, the open or concealed carrying of guns. There also is no constitutional barrier to businesses establishing “gun free” policies; indeed, the right to control one’s own property gives businesses the freedom to establish those policies.