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Am I Being Detained: The Debate Surrounding Open Carry Activists

It’s a bright afternoon in America and you are somewhere out in public. As you go about your business, shopping or merely enjoying the day, you happen to see someone with a rifle slung across their back. He or she is not holding the rifle “at the ready,” and is going on about his or her business as if carrying nothing more innocuous than a beach towel. It’s a crowded public place and no one else is carrying weapons.

Would this be suspicious? Would you be afraid? Would you call the police?

Chances are, the person openly carrying the rifle thinks you will and, in fact, wants you to call the police so he can be questioned and film it for the Internet.

Of the nine states whose constitutions specify that concealed carrying of firearms can be regulated, none explicitly forbid carrying the weapon openly. Gun-rights advocates, usually also with a chip on their shoulder about police overreach, will open-carry knowing that they will eventually be stopped and questioned.

At least, that’s what happened in Appleton, Wisconsin on September 7, 2013 when two men were questioned then released when open-carrying at a downtown farmer’s market. While they claim that they do this to “educate” both police and the public, I think it might be more than that.

As a veteran of the U.S. Army, I have been trained in the use of a number of weapons systems. By far my favorite is the M-16/AR-15 rifle. When deployed, it was my preferred weapon to carry. The reason I wanted it with me in hazardous theaters was because it is a very efficient killing machine. I never fired my weapon in combat, thankfully, but if I had needed to, it was the best weapon for the job. That said, it’s also a really fun weapon to shoot on the range and, for those of us who like guns, it’s really cool.

Yet, to civilians and those inexperienced with firearms, it can be a terrifying sight, and those who test the response of local police to open-carry situations know that.

This is why you could find hundreds of videos on sites like YouTube and LiveLeak featuring shaky camera footage of confrontations between gun owners and police officers, and usually not the best of either party.

Still, let’s examine both sides of the argument.

Police officers face a situation similar to the one faced by my fellow troops in Iraq. They have to move about a community of people with no idea if any of them are an enemy and seek to do harm to the officer or others. For the gun owners, they fear that a right they wish to exercise is, at best, being infringed upon or, at worst, being taken away bit by bit. The police are, mostly, concerned about the safety of themselves and the community they serve, while the gun-rights advocates are concerned about their ability to defend themselves.

Both concerns are legitimate, although gun-rights advocates may be victims of a systematic approach by gun and ammunition manufacturers who have had record sales since President Obama’s election in 2008. There was a massive media push, echoed by Republican spokespeople, that President Obama was an enemy of the second amendment, despite the fact that he expanded gun-rights during his first term and never publicly supported gun control legislation while in the White House until after the mass-shooting at Sandy Hook elementary in December of 2012.

This is not to say that law-abiding gun owners don’t have any real concerns about police harassment.



Photo by Eli Christman via Flickr

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.