This past weekend I had an interesting and rare experience while carrying a firearm, we received more of a negative reaction from an individual who was fairly respectful, but just wanted to stop us and let us know their negative opinion of our actions.
In the state of Virginia you can openly carry a firearm at the age of 18 without a permit (as long as you do not have a criminal record). Comparatively, you need to obtain a permit if you wish to carry concealed. While this process has become easier over the last few years, as it is very unlikely that anyone would be denied this as long as they meet the criteria (age 21, no criminal record, and have taken a firearms safety course). However, as the 2nd amendment should be our permit, we do not appreciate the extra steps involved between a simple difference in open versus concealed carry. Thus the majority of my friends with firearms choose to openly wear their firearms. Wearing them this way is usually much easier/more comfortable, as well as helps the public see that firearm ownership and carry is normal.
The husband and I are frequently stopped by curious people. They often ask about the legality (as they are unfamiliar with Virginia’s laws etc) and we help to dispel myths they may have overheard from the media. While these conversations vary, mostly everyone is just curious. This past weekend I was confronted with my most negative response in about 3 years of regular carry, and for my husband’s 5 years of regular carry. I want to share that situation with you, as well as share general tips on how to navigate this aspect of firearms carry.
This past Sunday several friends made the decision to go out to eat after our Sunday School time. This is a fairly regular occurrence and about seven of us were carrying whether openly or concealed. We go to this restaurant fairly often, and as our group of 11 were leaving I was at the back of our exodus. I overheard a couple of guys sitting with their young family commenting as they saw the openly carried firearms, “Why are they carrying pistols?” I grinned to myself, then I heard them ask loudly, “Hey! Why are ya’ll carrying pistols?” At this point it was myself, another friend newer to open carry, and another couple who were left to answer his questions.
My friend responded that we carried for self defense. The gentleman (country good ole’ boy) in his Remington hat asked snarly, “You are saying that you don’t feel safe in this restaurant?” I began to explain that this is a lifestyle choice for us (though he didn’t know I was carrying as I was concealed carrying at the time) because the world is full of evil and every place “feels safe” until it isn’t anymore. He commented that he felt like what we were doing was “dangerous” as “aren’t you afraid that they could be used against you? That is a double edge sword” as his friend mumbled under his breath about the differences between civilians and non civilians. I explained that we’ve all had training, many with police officers or other officials, and that we prepare against that risk by being situationally aware.
I emphasized that we take this very seriously, and we’d hate to use them, but just want to be able to defend ourselves should we need it. He then asked to my friend, “have you ever been involved in a fist fight? Well, would you try to fist fight before using your weapon?” I chuckled at this and said, “I don’t think a fist fight would work out in my favor” (Seriously who asks a woman that question?!!! Though I don’t think they suspected that I also carried on a regular basis ;0) ).
At this point husband had noticed our absence and joined us as the gentleman was wrapping up. We could tell that he did not want to debate the issue, he really just wanted to share our opinions. He told us that we could easily offend those around us, that we were dangerous, and that while he could tell that we were respectful/took it seriously and that he agreed with the second amendment, he felt that what we were doing was “unnecessary.” We respectfully departed at that point.
While that is the first time that anyone has ever been that blatant and confronted me with their very negative opinions of open carrying actions, I would still consider it a positive experience. I think we presented ourselves well to those gentlemen, and didn’t respond negatively to their rude criticisms. Basically, they accused us of being dangerous and we calmly understood that his opinions couldn’t hurt us. I think his eyes were opened at the description of our training etc. I think in the future he’ll think more about this, especially the next time that he sees someone as there are more and more open carriers the more in our area.
Summary of Open Carry Tips and Talking Points
* Remain calm Especially if you are more introverted than my “disgustingly extroverted” husband than being asked about something by strangers can be very unnerving. Most of the time people are just curious if they’ve never seen anyone carry a gun that way before. This is the perfect opportunity to explain that it is a completely normal thing.
*Be polite/respectful Many times people may stop us and ask some of the stupidest questions “Is that a real gun?” And all you want to do is answer “No, I just like carrying a fake gun around.” I actually once had a pot bellied 40 something male come up and bend over looking at my hip very awkwardly and ask me if I was wearing a taser. I wanted to explain that I was carrying a firearm, and that one of the reasons was because of creepy people like him. Even if people are rude, you can rationally explain your beliefs. If they do not accept your information or are rude to you, that is their own choice.
* Be educated If you are going to publicly speak about firearms, understand why you do what you do, and be able to explain it to others. Be able to share where they can get more information. Be available to dispel the myths that are frequently shared in the media. I know VCDL and other organizations have cards that you can print and give to people.
*Let them direct conversation Most of the time people have the same few questions “Is it real?” “Is that legal?” “Is it loaded?” “Aren’t you worried that someone could take that?” “What training have you had?” “Do you need a permit?” “What about assault weapons?” etc. Some of these encounters will be relatively short, while others can last as long as an hour. This is not time for you to preach politics at them “That darn politician…!” but rather simply a time to answer their questions.
*Be understanding Try to ask their background with firearms, or what state their from if they seem nervous. Many people have never been around firearms in their life; all they’ve ever seen has been the media and real life massacre events. To them if you’re suggesting that we shouldn’t have a permit could be the scariest thing in the world, because they still think that the firearm is an evil thing that could jump out of your holster at any given moment. This is something that my husband has really grown in, as I was able to share how scary firearms were to me at first due to public education and never being around them. In this way you can say “Oh, I can definitely understand that that is scary to you, but the important thing to remember is it is a tool like anything else.” This makes the individual feel listened to; you’ve validated their concerns.
*Be a good tipper One of the easiest ways to have open carry events in your area is to eat out together. If you’re going to do this it is highly recommended that you tip well, and refrain from drinking alcohol to show that you are responsible and not a jerk.
Let me know if you can think of any other important tips for conversations regarding open carry!