Open Carry--Is America Ready?
Three years ago I wrote the following in my book titled Blood in the Streets: Concealed Carry and the OK Corral:
By Skip Coryell
"I teach my students that there is no advantage to anyone knowing that they are carrying a concealed pistol."
And then later on in the book I said:
"In my very humble opinion, in most scenarios, open carry is a bad decision. Open carry is stupid carry. Concealed carry is smart carry. Keep it hidden. Keep it smart."
For the past 8 years I have consistently taught in my classes that open carry is a very risky proposition, but I am starting to re-evaluate the severity of that position. I am always gathering new data, new experiences and new technology and then applying it to my everyday life. I think this is the best way to go, and I'm not so dogmatic as to think that nothing ever changes. Some things change, some things don't.
In my book I describe two reasons why open carry is stupid carry.
1. There is no tactical advantage to open carry.
2. It scares people. Michigan is not ready for open carry.
I believe that the first reason is still valid and probably always will be. Open carry gives away the element of surprise and I don't want to do that. Here's what I wrote in the book, and I still hold to it:
"As a former Marine Infantryman, I understand that the most important asset in a battle is the element of surprise. I know full well that if I can retain that equalizing "surprise element", then I can overcome most other odds, be they superior firepower or superior numbers. If I open carry, that advantage is gone. But if I carry concealed, I have a greater number of options that are open to me. I can wait and see what happens. I can duck behind cover. I can draw my firearm and surprise the bad guys with a hail of deadly gunfire. I can wait for them to make a mistake, then act decisively and with conviction."
However, despite all that, something happened a few days ago which has caused me to re-evaluate my strong stance against open carry. Let me tell you what happened. A friend of mine came to me, one of my long-time Second Amendment activist buddies, and told me that he was going to walk through downtown main street, daring the Chief of Police to arrest him. My first thought was: this doesn't sound like a good idea. In fact, several years ago I had spoken with the Chief in that town and I knew that he was dead-set against open carry and even against concealed carry. Once, in a private conversation in his office, I asked him what he would do if I were to walk through town wearing a pistol and holster. He told me in no uncertain terms that he would arrest me. I believed him.
So when my friend came to me, I was concerned about his plan. I was convinced that he would be arrested. But then he asked me to join him and I didn't have the heart to tell him no. He was too good a friend and we'd been through the political activist trenches during the concealed carry debate, so we started making plans for the event.
Now you have to understand that I seldom do things small. It's just not in my personality. Besides, if I was going to walk through a city with a pistol strapped to my side, I wanted company. So I told a few friends, and they told their friends and then their friends told their friends - and then it hit the Internet - all over the country. When I told Ted Nugent he was all for it and said to put it on tednugent.com, which I did. From there it migrated to other websites and soon I was getting emails from people all across the country.
This two-man event was growing out of control. And then the media started to call.
I figured since I was going to be interviewed by channel 3, channel 8, and the Detroit Free Press, that I might want to know something about open carry before I actually did it. So I emailed the guys at www.opencarry.org and they were very helpful, pointing me to videos of previous open carry events and other news sources. But I have to tell you, that even after I'd educated myself, I was still as nervous as a frog in a blender.
Just to be safe, we contacted the County Prosecutor, the State Police and the State Attorney General, just to make sure that what we were doing was legal. To my surprise, they all agreed that it was. They even pointed me to several legal sources: Attorney General Opinion 7101 on brandishing, and MCL 750.234d. I was reassured, but still nervous. Just to make sure, we recruited an attorney to attend our event, just in case.
All this happened in the span of four days, and on the night before, I didn't get to sleep until 4:30 AM. I emailed Ted Nugent for moral support and asked his advice. He emailed back in typical Ted-like fashion:
"YOU are in charge!! carryon! sincerity delivers the day. Godspeed"
Quite frankly, that's what he always says. Be sincere! Speak from the heart! Take control! He's such an alpha male. I secretly wished that he could fly on up and walk with me on this thing, but he had some lame excuse about a concert tour in Canada.
So I went to the event the next day with my wife and three kids. On the way there I called Dave and asked him how many people had come. He said he was still there alone. That was less than a half hour before the event. It was then I began to curse myself for being stupid enough to think that others would put themselves at risk alongside me. To top it all off, the kids were fighting with each other in the car and my nerves were tighter than a gnat's butt stretched over a barrel.
We got there and I saw TV cameras out front. I kicked into public relations activist overdrive and gave three interviews before even entering the building. When I got inside I was shocked to see the room was packed with about 50 Second Amendment supporters. Some of them I knew, others I didn't. But it was good to see them all. They were my backup.
I talked to the troops, telling them to keep smiling, say good things, and to not touch their firearms no matter what. Number one rule: 1. Pistols never clear leather. Number two rule: 2. Be nice, smile, live the golden rule.
Larry came up and told me that there was a group of anti's who might give us trouble. I thought to myself, Great! Just what we need. Idiots bent on making us look bad! I told everyone not to talk to them, just let them make fools of themselves. Any altercation would undoubtedly be blamed on us and defeat our mission which was to educate the public that open carry was both legal and constitutional and that gun owners need not be feared by the general population.
We walked outside, the cameras following our every move. We walked down 2 blocks to city hall. Shopkeepers came out of their stores to watch, and people on the street took pictures with their cell phones.
A strange thing happened to me. I was no longer nervous. In fact, I was downright happy, gleeful even. It felt good to no longer have to hide my pistol behind a shirt. At that moment, while walking down main street with all eyes watching, I felt more like a free man than at any other point in my life.
We walked two blocks back to the county courthouse and gathered at the veteran's memorial in front of the fountain. I told them the story of how Dave and I had crashed our first County Gun Board meeting back in 1999, subsequently opening it up to the public. Then I gave a 5-minute speech. The Detroit Free Press called it a red-meat speech, but I'm not even sure what that means. Here's a small excerpt:
"We have been given a birthright of freedom, and that birthright was passed on to each one of us from our father and our father's father and his father before him. The right to keep and bear arms, the right to protect our families, the right to ward off the wolves is as old as creation itself. It was infused into our spiritual DNA, into the everlasting consciousness of humanity and it forever runs deep in the race."
I like red meat. Afterward, people lingered, not wanting the moment to end. An hour later people were still there. Finally, I left, totally exhausted and my spirit fulfilled.
What we had done was risky, but the risk had paid off. Barry County was now open to "open carry". I'm glad we did it.
So, I find myself re-evaluating my stance. Obviously, concealed carry is still the best tactical choice. Nonetheless, I suspect that many in America are ready for more. I believe that open carry, when properly practiced, is a useful tool in educating and desensitizing the public to firearm usage. For decades the antis have taught that Guns equal crime; therefore, gun owners equal criminals.
That couldn't be further from the truth, and last week in a small town in Michigan, 40 plus gun owners proved it.
Skip Coryell lives with his wife and children in Michigan. He is the author of five books including Blood in the Streets: Concealed Carry and the OK Corral, the hunting novel Bond of Unseen Blood, and the Second Amendment novel We Hold These Truths. He is an NRA Instructor and co-owner of Midwest Tactical Training, teaching CPL classes in both Michigan and Iowa and also owner of White Feather Press. To find out more about Skip, his classes and his writing, go to www.skipcoryell.com and www.mwtac.com.