Retail stores and open carry: Responsible gun owners can knock down inaccurate stereo-types

By Jim Irvine

Across the nation, the media have been reporting on the controversy that some nationwide chains have found themselves in regarding store policy on firearms. In "Stores Land in Gun-Control Crossfire," the Wall Street Journal examines how Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and other stores who allow guns are attracting law-abiding, gun-carrying customers. Best Buy spokesman Sue Nehring says, "Our practice is to comply with local and state laws." So what is the controversy?

Many gun owners are open-carrying into establishments that do not have a policy to prohibit guns. Starbucks has garnered the most attention lately. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence claims to have collected over 28,000 signatures in an effort to get Starbucks to ban guns in all their stores. I have no doubt that the pro-gun side could come up with hundreds of thousands of signatures to support current policy to allow guns.

In some situations, open carry makes a lot of sense. Ohio is an open carry-friendly state in that no license or training or permit is required. There are many places where firearms are banned, but open carry is not specifically addressed. Activists conducted many open carry walks before concealed carry was legal in Ohio. Some put pressure on the state legislature by taking place around the capitol building, governor's mansion, or then-Senate President Doug White's home. Other walks took place throughout Ohio and brought a lot of attention to the notion that just carrying a gun was not dangerous. One walk was even conducted in a town where store owners who agreed ahead of time to allow guns in their stores where treated to dozens of gun owners doing Christmas shopping. They were delighted that we were there.

Wisconsin does not allow concealed carry, so open carry is the logical response. It is the only way to comply with the laws and still be able to adequately protect oneself. California has very strange gun laws. Concealed carry licenses are granted to some people, but many average citizens are discriminated against by issuing authorities who refuse to issue licenses to anyone they don’t like. Opencarry.org claims that open carrying of firearms is legal in rural areas of California.

Starbucks is based in Seattle, and Washington is a "shall issue" concealed carry state. Anyone meeting the state requirements is issued a license and may carry a concealed firearm. So why open carry there?

I support open carry. I did it before it was legal to carry concealed in Ohio. I continued to open carry after the law passed because then-Governor Taft insisted guns be in "plain sight" in automobiles. I still occasionally carry openly, but it is certainly the exception to the rule for me. While a good case can be made both for and against open carry (and was, on an episode of Firearms Forum (available here), that is not the topic of this story.

Many stores have "no guns" policies and one may not carry a gun into that store. The fewer such stores the better. When you have the ability to carry a gun concealed, and a store has no policy banning guns, I fail to see how making their customers uncomfortable with a policy that is friendly to our cause is helpful. Unless Starbucks enjoys the media attention they are receiving, or gun owners are spending enough money to stand out as desired customers, it seems in many places the best gun owners can hope for is no change in company policy.

Gun owners have done a lot to smash the "angry white man" stereotype in the last two decades. Almost all of us represent the gun community excellently when interacting with others, whether we are open carrying or not. I worry that the exceptions will be the ones the media highlights in their biased coverage against us and that store owners who don't know us will be scared into adopting an anti-gun policy that is only good for criminals.

But there is no denying that open carry can have a positive impact on people's perception of guns and gun owners. On her blog, one of Buckeye Firearms Association's writers covers this topic, and it is an excellent read.

While the debate will likely continue for years on the practice of open carry, there is no debate that gun owners acting responsibly and having friendly interactions with others helps us to keep knocking down inaccurate and negative stereotypes.

Jim Irvine is the Buckeye Firearms Association chairman.

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