A Gun Owner Speaks: My Case for Open Carry

The founder of Open Carry Texas on why his group is misunderstood by the national media.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Polaris, Newsom

The time has come for Texas to be the 45th state to recognize the right to openly carry a handgun and the 31st state to do so without a licensing requirement. If more than half of the states can trust their citizens with this right, surely Texas can too.

People tell us they prefer the element of surprise that comes with concealed carry. They want to keep the criminals guessing about whether or not they are armed. Concealed carry is good for responding to a crime in progress; open carry is a deterrent to it. My goal is to make the case for open carry without resorting to the usual “shall not be infringed” rhetoric.

In a study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, researchers Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz found that of the nearly 2.5 million defensive uses of firearms each year, 92 percent of them scare off their attackers by merely brandishing their firearm.

Arizona passed “constitutional carry” (open and concealed carry WITHOUT a license) in 2010. Since that time, violent crimes have steadily fallen each year, according the Bureau of Justice Statistics. While it’s probably still too early to determine whether or not allowing citizens to carry without a license is responsible for the decline, it definitely can’t be linked to any increases in criminal activity. Texas ranks 35th in violent crime in the United States.

There is a common belief among concealed handgun advocates (of which I am also one) that if a criminal sees a handgun, the individual carrying it will be the first one targeted. Criminals are cowards. Take for example a story from 2013 in which two armed robbers attempted to rob an Internet café, but were thwarted by an armed senior citizen with a .380 caliber pistol. In Phoenix, a jewelry store attendant scared off TWO robbers when she pulled her own gun. Criminals prefer soft targets, or at least targets they THINK are soft.

As part of our mission, we have worked hard to remove the stigma of guns in society. Beginning at a young age, our children are inundated with educational propaganda proclaiming that guns are bad. Night after night, the media furthers this narrative by sensationalizing the worst aspects of humanity. The entertainment industry relies on hype and inaccurate stereotypes of gun owners. The gun control lobby engages in emotional brainwashing to further its attempts at disarming the American people. Open carry has been proven to deter crime, which is why we believe it is so important.

When the only option for carrying a handgun is to carry concealed, it unfairly discriminates against women and professionals. It also makes the lawful carry of a firearm difficult during warmer months in Texas. Typically most women carry their concealed firearms in their purses, the main target of thieves. Businessmen and churchgoers find it difficult to conceal while wearing a shirt and tie.

Most people would prefer to continue concealing their handguns. But Texans should have the choice. We should be embarrassed that we are one of only five states (Florida has partial open carry) that bans the practice. That puts us in league with California, New York, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and South Carolina (the only other conservative state).

With very few exceptions that have been handled internally, we have always sought permission from property owners prior to going inside businesses. Businesses should always have the option of whether or not they will allow firearms into their stores. We recognize that the practice of carrying long arms into businesses wasn’t achieving our goal of educating the public about open carry and getting legislation passed. So, several weeks ago, we altered our tactics by asking our members not to enter any business, whether invited or not, with a rifle or shotgun. You may start seeing more people walking around with pre-1899 replica revolvers, empty holsters, or holsters with fruits, vegetables, or even brightly colored rubber training pistols in them. We feel this is a much less dramatic tactic of drawing attention to gun laws in Texas.

As with any newly formed grassroots organization, we’ve had our growing pains. We don’t have billionaire philanthropists who can hire full-time consultants, public relations specialists, attorneys or meme designers. We’ve made several public relations mistakes and have learned from them. We learned that with great success comes even greater opposition.

Enter Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and its media surrogates, which lie, distort and manipulate their way to the heart of their base—and “sunshine patriot” gun owners. At a recent open carry demonstration at a Jack in the Box in Fort Worth, no employees hid in a freezer or called 911, as The New York Times has confirmed. After an event in the Dallas area, we sought for and received permission from the manager of a local Chipotle to sit down and eat. We frequently find pro-gun establishments at which we eat after a good walk educating the public. No one in Chipotle was frightened or alarmed, because we had two uniformed police officers with our 10-member group. We seldom encounter people who are frightened, because when we do these events we take measures to ensure we are friendly and unassuming as possible. We haven’t been in Target with rifles since January after learning from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission that we were endangering the store’s liquor license. But none of that was spread throughout the media that the Target photos were taken in January.

A few weeks ago, before the National Rifle Association issued a statement that called our efforts “weird” and “not neighborly,” we had stopped carrying long arms in businesses—even though we had been given local approval to enter in nearly every instance. In fact, hundreds of businesses across Texas have seen for themselves the respectful, courteous and professional nature of our organization and have told us we are still welcome in their stores. We will gladly continue patronizing those stores, but will not be taking our rifles.

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Our goal is not to scare people, but to start a dialogue and educate them about the benefit of open carry. Article I, Section 23 of our state constitution reads that the “Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms” as long as they do so “with a view to prevent crime.” Since there is no evidence that open carry contributes to criminal activity, but actually deters it, we believe it is time for Texas to recognize its benefits.