If you want to stir things up the next time you and your shooting friends get together, pose the question, “Which is better, open carry or concealed carry?” This question, open carry vs concealed carry, has a polarizing effect more than any other among shooters. And that’s understandable—there are, after all, reasonable arguments on both sides.
Examining the positions, arguments, pros and cons of open carry vs concealed carry can open up a conversation much larger than can be dealt with by a single article. I will try, however, to cover the most valid points as best I can, while examining both sides of this issue reasonably.
The Common Ground: What We Don’t Need to Argue About
No question is so polarizing as the question of open carry vs concealed carry. If you ignore the arguments and rationale of those who would ban both, you still have a vigorous and, sometimes, vehement debate. Both sides have their pros and cons. In the end, it is the individual—you—who must decide on open or concealed carry.
Before examining each side’s arguments, however, it is important to understand the common ground that most gun owners accept. Beginning from common ground lays a foundation for understanding each side’s views in the open carry vs concealed carry debate.
The Most Important Common Understanding
The most important of these basic common starting points is the Constitution—specifically the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The Second Amendment’s interpretation and application is undeniably one of the dividing points in the political debate. The legal and cultural debate looms far too large for this article.
However, I assume that anyone who is posing the question of open carry vs concealed carry recognizes the right to keep and bear arms as one guaranteed by the United States Constitution. From this basic tenet of gun ownership, we can proceed.
Self-Defense and the Pursuit of Happiness
The framers of the Declaration of Independence state their intentions plainly, “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” They may not have anticipated the debate between open carry vs concealed carry, but their words can help us establish common ground.
Where there is no means by which to protect your life or liberty, or that of your family, there can be no pursuit of happiness. Self-defense is part of that pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. You must, then, have access to the tools and the means by which to ensure your self-defense in the best way possible.
The Rationale—Why You Should Open Carry
In the open carry vs concealed carry debate, proponents of open carry can offer some logical and convincing arguments. The reasons that support these arguments are worth examining, as are the counter-arguments. The arguments in favor of open carry break down into the following categories:
- Open carry is a deterrent
- Open carry allows me to respond quicker to a threat
- Concealed carry is clumsy
Open Carry as a Deterrent
Many proponents of open carry vs concealed carry see the act of putting their firearm into public view as a proactive deterrent against threats to their safety and the safety of others. The argument that a visible firearm serves to deter criminals is common-sense, and the perceived threat to a criminal of encountering someone who will actively defend themselves does seem to support the deterrent argument.
The Counter Argument: Deterrent, or Target?
While some criminals may very well shy away from confronting a known armed target, there are other dangerous possibilities that may arise. Carrying openly may make you a target rather than a deterrent. Many career criminals are as careful and as observant as any trained police officer.
A criminal intent on performing an armed robbery in the convenience store you happen to be shopping in could end in tragedy. Should the criminal notice your openly carried firearm before you know his intent, it may result in you becoming the first and unannounced target.
Response and Reaction—Microseconds Count
FBI statistics show that most gunfight scenarios last about 3.5 seconds. In such situations, the ability to react with speed and accuracy is key. Open carry supporters argue that the micro-seconds they can save by drawing from open carry vs concealed carry could mean a different outcome to an otherwise tragic scenario.
The Counter Argument: Speed is Great, but Surprise is Better
Concealed carry gurus point out that while speed is good, the element of surprise can be much more effective. These instructors and concealed carry advocates argue that a quick draw contest is, at best, risky. Much preferred is having the opportunity to control an encounter, making the best use of surprise in drawing your firearm.
The argument that drawing from concealment allows you to better protect yourself and any bystanders deserves consideration. Remember, the open carry vs concealed carry question is first and foremost about safety. You have a responsibility to protect everyone—not just yourself.
Trying to Carry Concealed Is Clumsy and Ineffective
Carrying openly on a belt is indeed much easier, especially when you aren’t trying to hide the firearm. You don’t need to do much wardrobe planning in advance. And the argument can be made that ease of carrying will also lead to ease of operating.
The Counter Argument: Safety Over Convenience
Open carry invites someone to use your pistol against you. Police officers are all too aware of this danger and take extra precautions against such a situation developing. If you choose to open carry vs concealed carry, you should have the same concern and take the same precautions. Just as an openly carried firearm may make you a target, it may also make the firearm itself a target.
A properly concealed firearm is invisible for all practical purposes. Moreover, a well-concealed inside-the-waistband holster is often more secure than an outside-the-waistband open carry holster. With open carry, unless you wear a level two or level three holster, your firearm is one snatch away from being gone.
Open Carry vs Concealed Carry—the Real Reason
Unfortunately, given enough time to ask the right questions, the real reason that many people choose to open carry will have nothing to do with any of the previous arguments. In truth, many people who open carry do so from an inflated sense of self-importance.
Openly carried firearms garner a lot of attention, and rightly so. It is precisely this kind of attention, however, that many open carry advocates seek. Attention-getting is the least spoken about and the most common reason people choose to carry a pistol openly.
Before you choose to open carry vs concealed carry in public, make sure that the reasons underpinning your choice are ones having to do with safety and efficacy—not vanity.
Concealed Carry—The Undeclared Statement of Readiness
I had a shooting instructor who pointed out that the real reason to train regularly and carry concealed was not in order to get involved in a gunfight, but rather to be better prepared to avoid a gunfight. His insight was that the concealed carry firearm was the last-ditch means to save your own or someone else’s life.
Concealed carry advocates are often more about the “gray man” concept than anything else. There is no intention to advertise the decision to carry a firearm overtly. Most arguments to support concealed carry in the open carry vs concealed carry debate rely in one way or another upon the gray man assumption:
- Safety in Anonymity
- Less Attention From the Well-Intentioned
- Surprise or Be Surprised
The Gray Man Attitude—Finding Security in Anonymity
Many trainers and instructors advocate adopting the gray man attitude. In short: blend in and don’t stand out. Being inconspicuous and not seeking unnecessary attention is at the heart of the gray man concept. Being perceived as a non-threat offers you the opportunity to think, assess the situation, and make sound judgments before you act.
Protection from the Well-Intentioned Bystander
Imagine being confronted by a well-intentioned shopper who is screaming for the police because a man has a gun in the store. If you chose to carry your pistol openly, this could very well be the outcome. Imagine the embarrassment and the ill-will that would result.
This set of circumstances has happened more often than you might think. Many people are blithely unaware of the carry laws in their states. The unaccustomed sight of a pistol in a holster at the grocery store can evoke some surprising and forceful responses—not a thoughtful consideration of the pros and cons of open carry vs concealed carry.
Concealed carry avoids most of these issues. When properly done, the only person who is aware of the concealed firearm is the person who is wearing it. Proper concealment means fewer hassles and less embarrassment for everyone.
To Be or Not to Be… Surprised
Imagine standing in front of the soft drink dispenser and turning to find the muzzle of a pistol inches from your face.
Many armed robberies are carried out, not by lone gunmen, but by pairs of criminals. While one acts as the perpetrator, the other is the layoff man. It is the job of the layoff man to remain unannounced and to watch his partners back. Should the layoff man notice your open carry weapon, you will get his undivided attention.
In this situation, you have given up the element of surprise and the few seconds your concealment may afford. Were you concealing properly, the layoff man would probably not have given you a second glance. You could very easily translate that inattention into the opportunity to make a planned and deliberate response.
The Last Word on Open Carry vs Concealed Carry
Despite what you may think about the Constitution or particular interpretations of the Second Amendment, you are nevertheless subject to the laws and ordinances of the state and municipality where you live. Each state has its own set of rules and regulations governing open carry vs concealed carry. Before you make any decision, you should consult with the appropriate counsel to be sure you comply with all governing laws.
Remember, too, that what is legal in your state may not be legal in the adjacent state. If you travel with your weapon, be sure you know the laws and ordinances of the state you are visiting.
My Point of View On Open Carry vs Concealed Carry
From the point of view of a long time firearms dealer, instructor, shooter, and concealed carry license holder, I rarely find justification for open carry. However, there are a few exceptions to every rule, and I have my own. These are the times when I opt to open carry vs concealed carry:
- On my property and at home – I carry most of the time, even at home. I usually opt to open carry during these times. I admit it is more convenient and more comfortable. My standard holster is a level two security paddle holster that I can slip onto my waistband.
- When hunting or camping – Where it is legal, I will open carry my handgun when hunting or camping. Wild animals typically don’t raise the alarm if they see me sporting a large caliber handgun on my hip.
- At the Range – Yes, I make it a habit to carry openly when I am at the shooting range. A cleared and safe pistol in a good holster is in the safest place it can be and fully under my control. Unless I am specifically training on concealed carry skills, a good level two holster is my choice at the shooting range.
For me, open carrying in public during normal day-to-day activities simply draws too much attention. The few and small advantages that open carry can provide do not counterbalance the likely problems that open carry can bring. If you feel otherwise, however, and if your state affords you the legal right, then you should make your own choice to open carry vs concealed carry.