Crazy about Open Carry
It’s yet another evidence-free panic.


Charles C. W. Cooke

The University of Texas’s resident “writing and photography” guru, Matt Valentine, has identified for your delectation a vexatious “new craze.”

The worrying trend, Valentine reported yesterday on Salon, is nothing less than the open carrying of firearms, and it “is more dangerous than you think.” Crazy libertarians, you see, have opened up a “new front line in the battle over gun rights and public safety in American culture,” and they are demanding the “liberty to display their guns in public rather than keep them concealed under clothing.”

Valentine’s piece is chock-full of fun predictions. In the course of 2,200 words, he contends that soon all of us “will be affected by seeing guns in our everyday environment,” he cites psychologists who are worried about “the kind of actions people are going to take,” and he expresses concern that “habituating people to guns so that they no longer perceive any threat . . . might not be prudent.” Valentine doesn’t point to any cases of people taking action, of course, but he does run through the science of the thing, which apparently reveals that carrying a gun makes one more aggressive and, also, more likely to think that things that are not guns are in fact guns. The implication is clear, if tumescent: If we introduce guns into American life, the natives will start shooting one another in public.

Naturally, what Valentine doesn’t do is demonstrate that open carry has any actual effect on crime. Nor, for that matter, does he show that it leads to any real change in human behavior. One would imagine that if there were statistics linking the open carrying of firearms to crime, Valentine would cite them. But he doesn’t. Instead, he relies wholly on theory and prognosis, noting with disrelish that the “real world effects of open carry might soon be tested in the largest lab yet — the state of Texas.” In Texas, “it’s not currently legal to openly carry modern pistols,” Valentine observes correctly. But this might be about to change. And then what might happen . . . ?

Those who have been closely following the remarkable liberalization of gun laws over the past three decades might well roll their eyes at the question. After all, there is no need for Texas to “test” the idea in a “lab” when open carry is already unequivocally the law in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming, and, with varying restrictions, the law in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Utah. I understand that Valentine writes for Salon, which regards Texas not only as separate from the rest of the country but as a veritable workshop of evil in America, but he could at least have acknowledged that the rest of the country has already tried this, and that it has not yet descended into anarchy and bloodshed.

Funnily enough, Valentine’s suggestion, that Open Carry will lead to widespread fear, routine shootings, and an evolutionarily damaging desensitization to violence, is eerily similar to the forecasts that gun-controllers made when the concealed-carry idea picked up steam in the late 1980s. Back then, Americans were told that granting carry permits to “ordinary citizens” would lead to Dodge City–style shootouts in the street, road-rage massacres, and even murders in the supermarket. It never happened. As of this year, all 50 states have concealed-carry regimes, and still none of this has come to pass. Indeed, since the revolution started in the late 1980s, gun violence has been cut in half. So much for the return of the O.K. Corral.