Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Open Carry Debate: Your Message Is Lost When People Stop Listening

Last week there was a rather raucous debate regarding open carry laws in Texas. Rallies organized by Open Carry Texas have been held on numerous occasions to amend a state law that only allows for the open carry of shotguns and rifles but bars the open carrying of handguns without a concealed handgun license. Currently, Texas is only one of 10 states that specifically blocks the open carry of handguns, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Last week, participants took things a step further and rather than keeping to one area, they entered local businesses with long guns handing from their shoulders and laying across their backs.

This week, the debate continued with the NRA leaning in on the discussion initiated by local carry advocate groups. It’s not the rallies or the advocacy for change that the NRA opposes, it is the recent change in the methods that these people have deployed by going in to public places and private businesses to ‘make their point.’ While the people and the protest are nonviolent, it still crossed a line that has resulted in rather significant backlash. The comments made by the NRA have caused quite a stir among those ardent open carry supporters which didn’t take kindly to the following statement (as part of a larger piece) published on the NRA website on Friday:

The second example comes to us from the Lone Star State, which is second to none for its robust gun culture.  We applaud Texans for that, but a small number have recently crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness.

Now we love AR-15s and AKs as much as anybody, and we know that these sorts of semiautomatic carbines are among the most popular, fastest selling firearms in America today.  Texas, independent-minded and liberty-loving place that it is, doesn't ban the carrying of loaded long guns in public, nor does it require a permit for this activity.  Yet some so-called firearm advocates seem determined to change this.

Recently, demonstrators have been showing up in various public places, including coffee shops and fast food restaurants, openly toting a variety of tactical long guns. Unlicensed open carry of handguns is legal in about half the U.S. states, and it is relatively common and uncontroversial in some places. 

Yet while unlicensed open carry of long guns is also typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest, much less a whole gaggle of folks descending on the same public venue with similar arms. 

Let's not mince words, not only is it rare, it's downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one's cause, it can be downright scary.  It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.

As a result of these hijinx, two popular fast food outlets have recently requested patrons to keep guns off the premises (more information can be found here and here).  In other words, the freedom and goodwill these businesses had previously extended to gun owners has been curtailed because of the actions of an attention-hungry few who thought only of themselves and not of those who might be affected by their behavior. To state the obvious, that's counterproductive for the gun owning community.

More to the point, it's just not neighborly, which is out of character for the big-hearted residents of Texas. Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners.  That's not the Texas way.  And that's certainly not the NRA way.

In summary, NRA certainly does not support bans on personalized guns or on carrying firearms in public, including in restaurants.  We think people are intelligent enough to resolve these issues in a reasonable way for themselves. But when people act without thinking, or without consideration for others – especially when it comes to firearms – they set the stage for further restrictions on our rights. Firearm owners face enough challenges these days; we don't need to be victims of friendly fire.

Some people within the firearms community may not agree with this statement. However, I am not one of those people. I firmly stand behind these words and encourage common sense to return to the open carry and overall Second Amendment debate. While I believe that the legal ownership of firearms should not be limited and that most local, state, and federal laws should be repealed, we also need to respect those around us and stray away from such boisterous statements as those recently seen in Texas.

Yes, it is there right to legally carry in such a manner but that doesn’t make it a good idea. While this is a form of peaceful protest, we still live in a culture of fear which must be taken into account when making such a statement. People are uneducated with regard to firearms and, therefore, they are afraid of them. This lack of understanding is not going to be addresses when those same people are griped by their fears and are offended by these kinds of displays. Just like the heinous acts by individuals that have been promoted in the media has swayed views to one side, such aggressive means of protest will have the same effect.

This is not to say that I am against open carry rallies. When similar firearms are on display in one location, I agree that those are a great way to make your voice heard. It allows us to show our support for our rights but also does it in a specific area that people with any trepidation can avoid. I also support those who chose to openly carry a handgun. I don’t necessarily think that it is the best idea and believe you are asking for more trouble than its worth but I support the right and those who decide to carry in such a way. I much prefer concealed carry which is the generally preferred personal carry option for more people than you think.   

Some of you may not be familiar with some aspects of this debate and some of the differences that exist between states so I will take a moment to relay some information regarding Pennsylvania law as it pertains to open carry and concealed carry, the foundation of which can be found in Article I, Section 21 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which states the following:

“The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.”

Essentially, the carry laws in Pennsylvania can be boiled down to the following summaries from the Pennsylvania Firearms Owners Association website:

Concealed Carry:

Pennsylvania, like most states requires people to have permit to carry a concealed firearm as regulated by the following statute:

·         (a) Offense defined.--Any person who carries a firearm in any vehicle or any person who carries a firearm concealed on or about his person, except in his place of abode or fixed place of business, without a valid and lawfully issued license under this chapter commits a felony of the third degree.  

This license can be in the form of Pennsylvania's "License To Carry Firearms" (LTCF) or a permit issued by another state that Pennsylvania recognizes as valid through a reciprocity agreement.

Open Carry:

While Pennsylvania has a specific law that requires a License To Carry Firearms for the concealed carry of a firearm, and the carry of firearms in vehicles, the law is silent on the legality of openly carrying a firearm in other situations, making it de-facto legal.

There is however a law that requires a License To Carry Firearms to carry either way in "cities of the first class", which as defined by law is only the city of Philadelphia.

·         No person shall carry a firearm, rifle or shotgun at any time upon the public streets or upon any public property in a city of the first class unless:
o    (1) such person is licensed to carry a firearm; or
o    (2) such person is exempt from licensing under section 6106(b) of this title (relating to firearms not to be carried without a license).

To summarize, open carry is legal in Pennsylvania without a License To Carry Firearms except in "cities of the first class" (Philadelphia) and vehicles where a License To Carry Firearms is required to do so.

With that said, we would like to point out that there is much debate among firearm owners about whether openly carrying firearms is really a good idea. While we will leave that choice to the individual we will state that in many urban areas (namely Philadelphia) doing so will draw unwanted attention from law enforcement that may include (but not be limited to) the following repercussions:
1.      Being stopped and questioned by law enforcement.
2.      Having your License To Carry Firearms seized and sent back for revocation.
3.      Being arrested either improperly or for other charges like disturbing the peace or creating a public nuisance.

While this may not happen should you choose to carry openly, many urban law enforcement officers we have talked to have expressed a very negative opinion towards the idea. Some have suggested that law enforcement will do everything in their power to make your life difficult should you choose to.

As a “shall issue” state, Pennsylvania is rather unique with regard to the northeast region of the country and, so far, has kept the laws of the Commonwealth in line with both the Constitution of the Commonwealth and the United States Constitution. Firearms owners, should not be tempting public ire unnecessarily and should take the responsible step of getting their concealed carry permit. Even those who currently chose not to carry on their person, it is something that should be obtained. So while the debate will surely continue in states across this nation, we should be cognizant of both our message AND the audience to which we are speaking. If our actions prevent people from listening then our message will be lost. Keep fighting for your rights just make sure that you do so in a manner that promotes education and understanding.