The debate over open carry is the new front line in the battle over gun rights and public safety in American culture. In Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, gun rights activists have been staging protests, demanding broader liberty to display their guns in public rather than keep them concealed under clothing. Major candidates in statewide elections have voiced support for open carry, asserting that the conspicuous display of firepower will deter crime.I'll leave the psychology to the psychologists, but the reason I point this article out is that for the guns rights movement, it is not enough for them to have the right to own, possess and use weapons; it is not enough for them to have the right to hunt, or have them for home defense. No, all civic space must be armed space.
Psychologists have theorized that the threat superiority effect is a product of evolution — we have adapted the ability to immediately identify threats like snakes and spiders so we can avoid them. Blanchette’s research shows that people have a similarly quick reaction to seeing a weapon: We’ll immediately spot a gun among several other distracting objects.
When you see the threat, your body will respond before you even think about it. “The most instantaneous thing that happens is that your pupils will dilate,” Blanchette says. “You can have other physiological reactions that are associated with fear. There are changes in your body, such as in your heart rate and respiration rate.”
Last month, “Liz” (a pseudonym) experienced some of those reactions when she noticed a group of men with guns gathering just outside Blue Mesa Grill in Arlington, Texas. Liz had organized a lunch meeting for fellow members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and open carry activists decided to protest outside the restaurant with AK-47 and AR-15 rifles. “The only reaction I had was ‘I’m not going out there at all,’” Liz says. “They were all carrying rifles. There was a lot of firepower, and a lot of potential for carnage out in that parking lot. Absolutely I was scared.”
That sort of fear is what open carry activists say they want to eliminate over time. In an online list of goals, the open carry activists at Come and Take It America say they want “to condition Americans to feel safe around those of us that carry [guns].” The same goal is listed on the Open Carry Texas website. Open carry activists are aware that their marches scare people; they’re used to encounters with police who are responding to 9-1-1 calls. But Grisham says his group tries to maintain good relationships with local authorities, “in case they do get phone calls from concerned citizens, they can explain that, ‘no, these guys are just exercising their rights.’” He believes people will overcome their fears once they grow accustomed to seeing guns in public. “Our philosophy at Open Carry Texas is, if we can get people used to seeing AK-47s and AR-15s and deer rifles and shotguns and .22s and things of that nature, when we finally get open carry of pistols passed it won’t be such a big deal.”
And here is the problem--I do not want to lived in an armed encampment, in which everyone is packing. I like the notion of civilized spaces where not everyone can deal death with a couple of quick hand-movements. "Open carry" is not guaranteed by the Second Amendment, and I resent people trying to force their gun culture on me. As I wrote last year:
We need a cultural shift, and this is not something the law can do, and that politics can only help a little bit. We need to stop glamorizing guns, and gun culture. We have to not accept that guns are cool, and that killing is manly, or strong, or sexy, or whatever the hell it is that explains our long-term love affair with guns.So far, I see no signs of gun owners stepping up; instead, these guns rights groups are stepping up the demand that the gun be welcome everywhere. They want everyone's rights to yield to their vision of their own. Rights without responsibility--and if you don't like it, stay at home, locked in your house.
We have to cut it right out.
Let me tell you something; I don't hate guns, per se. I played with toy guns as a child; my Uncle Bill taught me to shoot a pistol one summer up in Rhinebeck. It was fun; I enjoyed it. I understand that implements of death can be domesticated.
I fence. Fencing is an athletic discipline that takes what used to be a perversely beautiful, skill-intensive way to kill somebody, and reimagines it as a fun competition. It has not brought back the sword as a major weapon of mayhem. Gun owners, you want to sever that link between your hobby and death. Step up. Draw lines of what is and isn't acceptable behavior. Don't be afraid of bucking the NRA, and keep guns out of places where they don't belong--schools, churches, etc. Shame people who think it's ok to bring guns where they don't belong, and those among you who feel that the omnipresence of guns is the only way to be sure your rights won't be taken away.
As to those who say guns don't kill people, people kill people? Cut it out. Do you have any idea how inane that is? Guns make the difference between working hard to kill one person, or two, and being able to, without discernible skill, talent, or physical or mental stamina, indiscriminately slaughter. It's the difference between retail and wholesale murder, and if you don't know the difference--why, I just don't want to know you.
And, by the way, with contemporary guns, just about any nimrod can shoot them and wreak havoc. Whoopee. Proper use of a rapier? That takes skill--and courage, too, especially if you go the classical route.