In September, I attended the 19th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference (GRPC). The conference was held in Arlington, Virginia, at the Crystal City Marriott.
Some attendees wanted to openly carry their firearms during the conference. Now, this seems perfectly logical when you think about it. We were attending a gun conference, and they could legally carry open, so, why not?
According to the Packing.org web site, “In Virginia, one may carry a handgun in the open with no license. Loaded handguns on the seat or dashboard in plain view while in a vehicle are fine. Carrying concealed in places that serve alcohol is prohibited, even licensed, but open carry there is allowed.” Additionally, “places off-limits while carrying…Private property when prohibited by the owner of the property, or where posted as prohibited.”
…the people practicing open carry at the conference were less than pleased when they were asked to conceal their handguns.
There had been an incident in Fairfax, VA, just a short time prior to the conference. Two men, apparently in transit to or from a shooting range, walked into either a Starbucks or a Subway (reports vary), with their firearms strapped on their sides. Well, the short of it was that people called the police. Not knowing exactly the finer points of the handgun laws, the police confiscated the guns. Needless to say, once word got out and the exact meaning of the law was made known to the officers, the guns were returned.
So, the people practicing open carry at the conference were less than pleased when they were asked to conceal their handguns. The request apparently came from the hotel, which was within its legal right to make such a request. This resulted in many discussions during the rest of the conference.
Two “camps” seemed to emerge within the conference, which is very indicative of the gun community itself.
One camp strives to have, and practice open carry in every state of the nation, while being allowed the concealed carry option as well. The other camp strives to have concealed carry in every state, with open carry being only a secondary concern.
Most in the open carry camp want to have what they call “Vermont-style carry.”
According to the Packing.org website, “Vermont is unique in that permits are not required for carry concealed or unconcealed for resident and non-resident alike. Local ordinances vary, though. VT has no statutes concerning concealed carry, nor is there a specific statute that allows it. In the absence of a statute that prohibits it, then it is taken that there is no law against it.”
Most in the concealed carry camp see a problem with the law, or more specifically, the lack of a law regarding the carrying of rearms in Vermont. Since there is no state law supporting the right to carry, there very well could come the day that the legislature makes a law AGAINST the right to carry. There has to be a law in order to protect the right from those who would infringe upon it.
While open carry is actually legal in a number of states, is it really a good idea to do so? This question was a point of unofficial debate at the conference.
The open carry camp saw carrying in the open as an opportunity to show others that just because one has a gun, one isn’t intent on committing a crime. Actually, they said that it was one way to show people that gun owners are normal people, and also as a way of initiating dialogue.
Now, let me tell you what I think, from the perspective of a woman and a mother. First of all, let me say that I conceal carry everywhere I can. I also openly carry only on my property.
If I was in a Starbucks or a Subway with my children, and men walked in with firearms openly carried, I would probably try to get the kids the heck out of there while I was calling the police. If I were there without the kids, I would probably be watching the armed men very closely while simultaneously preparing myself for confrontation and making my way towards the door. I certainly wouldn’t take time to stop and chat!
Think about it! What would your reaction truly be? Most likely, if you’re reading this magazine, you own a gun. Can you imagine what the reaction would be from some women or mothers (or even some men) who only know about firearms through the mass media? Odds are it would not be a positive reaction that would initiate informative dialogue.
The reality of life is that bad people use guns to do bad things. Of course, most of us who own firearms know that firearms are used far more often to prevent crime than they are ever used to commit crime. However, you can’t effectively make that point while scaring the daylights out of people.
Thanks to 9-11-01, you can now throw in the fact that more people today are looking for suspicious people. This heightened awareness makes people even more nervous when they see an armed person somewhere they don’t expect to see one. Personally, I think openly carrying your firearm anywhere but the range or on your private property is a mistake. When people are scared at the sight of a gun, that impression stays with them, and then damage has been done to the reputation of all gun owners.
Concealed carry, on the other hand, can actually help improve the reputation of all gun owners. First of all, when someone who was carrying concealed stops a crime, it makes all gun owners look like heroes. In such a situation, the criminal did not know there was an armed person, nor did the other people present. Most often, the result in such a case is that the criminal is thwarted and any other people are made safe thanks to a gun they did not even know was present. Even a liberal anti-gunner (maybe deep, deep down) would be happy that a concealed gun had been present when he or she had been at the mercy of a criminal.
I’ll stick with concealed carry and try to change people’s minds about guns through my grassroots activism.
So, what we have is open carry, in which probably 90% of the time could result in a negative perception of gun owners, versus concealed carry, in which probably 90% of the time results in no change in perception of gun owners what so ever. Then there is the estimated 8-9% of the time that concealed carry results in a very favorable perception of gun owners when the gun is used to stop a crime.
Open carry = 90% negative perception, and maybe 9% where people actually start a dialogue (depending upon where the open carry takes place). Concealed carry = 90% no change in perception and 8-9% positive perception (again, depending upon the specific situation).
I’ll stick with concealed carry and try to change people’s minds about guns through my grassroots activism. For most of four years, I was ‘the face’ associated with Second Amendment Sisters. I personally have been told by a number of women that because they heard me on the radio, or saw me on TV, they were motivated to either change their minds or become more vocal in preserving our rights. They saw me as a very normal everyday person, like them, and that’s what will help us in this battle to save our Second Amendment rights.
I guess what I’m saying is that ‘in your face’ doesn’t benefit our side nearly as well as ‘in your mind’. So, don’t ‘get in their faces’, rather, get in their minds!
[ Maria Heil is the mother of three teenagers and one pre-teen. She is also the former National Spokesperson for Second Amendment Sisters. ]