American Kshatriya: the Open Carry debate

So, the subject of open carry once again rears its head in Texas.

For my non-US readers, “open carry” refers to the idea of private citizens being allowed to visibly carry firearms, something that’s currently illegal under Texas law, but which the new state governor is on record as saying it will be his “first priority” to overturn. It’s already legal to carry a firearm secretly, provided you undergo a rudimentary background check and obtain a “concealed carry” licence; the current debate is over whether citizens should have to conceal the fact that they are armed or not.

Leaving aside all questions about the wisdom of making this issue rather than, say, education, border security or the state of the State’s roads, the “first priority”, I thought I’d weigh in on the issue itself.

Personally, I’m of two minds about the whole thing. I’ve been very open on this blog about my hestiation about firearms for personal defence as a follower of Jesus, but in many ways, if people are going to go armed I’d much rather they did so openly. Everyone can see your weapons; you’re not sneaking them around like some sort of criminal. It feels more honourable, somehow.

This may be a legacy of the fact that in Britain, “carrying a concealed weapon” is an offence in and of itself, even if you do nothing with it. The fact that you have a weapon in a place of concealment is considered prima facie evidence that you are Up To No Good.

So in some ways I’d actually be an advocate of open carry. If you’re going to carry the wretched things, at least give everyone the courtesy of doing so openly so that they have fair warning.

But there’s another side to the issue, and one I’m far less sanguine about.

The fact of the matter is that unless I know you very well, I have no way of knowing whether you are one of the good guys or one of the bad guys. In addition, I have no way of knowing whether you can reliably hit what you’re aiming at, particularly in an emergency when the adrenaline and testosterone are flowing freely.

At least with a police officer it is reasonable to expect that they ought to be mentally stable enough not to just haul off and start shooting, but you? How do I know you aren’t going to do that? Show me how I can know with reasonable certainty (and with as many loopholes as there are in the firearms purchasing laws, the fact that you have legally acquired a gun does not remotely constitute “reasonable certainty”) that you’re on the side of the angels, and I’ll be a lot happier about the idea of open carry.

On the other hand, I can see that if you’re carrying a weapon openly, it might act as a deterrent to opportunistic bad guys. That’s a fair argument, particularly where women are concerned, because guys don’t generally need to be quite as personally aware of issues like rape. Having a visible weapon is as clear a way as any of saying “back off” to a would-be predator.

But if there’s a situation with a shooter determined to cause mayhem, openly carrying a firearm probably just tells them who to shoot first. Still, that’s your decision as a bearer of arms. You signed up for the possibility of getting shot at when you decided to carry.

And then there are the wider societal issues.

What about kids? We’ve already had a situation in which a 4-year-old reached into their mother’s handbag, found her (quite legal) gun and in playing with it managed to kill her. If you’re waltzing around in a restaurant with your gun in plain sight, and for some reason you don’t have the safety on properly, and some little kid jostles you, you have to live with the accidental shooting of someone’s child. Maybe your own. It only takes once.

Then, too, there are always going to be people who cannot legally bear arms, or who will not for whatever reason. It seems to me that open carry creates a sort of caste system between the Armed and the Unarmed.

In India, the second-highest caste were the Kshatriyas, the warrior caste. Second only to the Brahmins, they were the ones who carried weapons and could cut your head off if you offered them provocation. (The Brahmins were considered even more powerful because they could not merely kill you but call down the wrath of gods on you). I really don’t think we want to duplicate the Kshatriya caste in America.

Put it this way: Whether you mean it to or not, it’s very intimidating to confront an armed person, even to the extent of “Sir, this is a non-smoking area. Please put your cigarette out”. To an extent, America embodies the idea of “nobody tells me what to do”, and we both know that you have the siren-song of “Yeah? Who’s gonna make me?” sitting right there on your hip. If I don’t know you, I’m going to be very hesitant about challenging you to follow the rules because I simply have no way of knowing what your character is like. Are you an upstanding citizen or a would-be outlaw?

We know that power has a tendency to corrupt, and even a small gun is quite a lot of power to wear with a light heart. Maybe you’re a good person and want to follow the rules. Maybe you just didn’t notice the signs and didn’t know that you’re smoking in a non-smoking area (for example). Maybe if someone challenges you on it you’ll obey.

And maybe you won’t. Maybe you’re a scofflaw who quite simply doesn’t care. You’ve passed the background check because you’ve never seriously broken the law, but you aren’t about to let anyone hem in your precious freedom with anything so petty as rules. It is, after all, a very independent, American attitude.

Maybe we’ll all get over it, and the unarmed public will show more courage than I suspect we might. But there’s a good possibility we won’t, and we’ll end up with one rule for the visibly armed and one rule for the rest of us. I don’t believe anyone in America wants to go there.

As it is written, “All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

So I don’t know what I think about this open carry stuff. On the one hand, if you’re going to carry the wretched thing, at least doing so openly gives everyone fair warning. But on the other hand, the probability of intimidation and the very real inability to tell what a stranger’s character and motivations are like.

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