Should I Open Carry My Firearm?

I recently received a message on Facebook from a fellow martial artist and gun owner. My friend asked:

Hey Tucker Sensei, I have a question for you. As of August 1, 2013 Alabama became an open carry state. I’ve been on the fence about open carrying, knowing the obvious benefits of concealing, however I wouldn’t mind open carrying in certain situations… My question is, what is your opinion overall about open carrying? And more specifically, would I draw undue attention to myself from Law Enforcement by open carrying as a civilian? Any other points on the subject?

Thanks for your time!

And here was my reply (names have been changed to preserve professionalism):

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Concealed or Open Carry? Which is best for you?

John Smith and I were talking about this briefly the other night. He is a Federal LEO here in Birmingham. From his understanding, Alabama has always been an open carry state. I’ve heard this same thing from some civilians as well. The problem was that the law was not clearly written. I had asked both John and Alan (he was a cop for UA) a few years ago because this same issue came up with a student. Back then one said is was legal, and the other said illegal. So, if even the cops can’t agree, that means they can be wrong. More on that later. I asked about collapsible batons and got the same answer.

John’s perspective the other night was that Alabama was always an open carry state. The problem was that if you open carried and someone got nervous, it was an issue of disturbing the peace.

First understand that the scenario always dictates your tactics in any case; firearms, unarmed, lethal, or non-lethal.

From a social perspective, I would say you need to pick you battles. If you are out in rural Alabama, I doubt it would be much of an issue. If you were in the Mountain Brook (very affluent) area of Birmingham you may have a bunch of folks being afraid of you. If you were to go to one of the rough areas of Birmingham, the people there may think you are trying to prove something and take it as a challenge to their manhood. Obviously places like Federal buildings, schools (don’t get me started), etc. are off limits; open or concealed.

From a tactical perspective, concealment gives you the element of surprise. No one attacks you thinking that you will successfully defend yourself. So simply fighting back is the element of surprise and is your ace up your sleeve.

Having your pistol in open carry takes that away. It would probably deter most bad guys, but if you have one that is desperate, maybe he sees the gun and decides to get the drop on you more aggressively by increasing his numbers, or shooting first then robbing, etc. By seeing your weapon (or you taking a kamae in taijutsu terms), you betray readiness. Which means the bad guy can brace for a fight and go harder, if he chooses to fight in the first place.

From a training perspective, pick a carry method and stick with it. With summer winding down you may be carrying concealed under a t-shirt. When it starts getting cold enough to carry a jacket, keep some blank keys (you can get them cheap at Home Depot) in your jacket’s strong side pocket. Go to the range or at least practice with a blue gun and practice your draw (clearing the jacket and shirt to access your pistol) many, many times.

If you play with more than one option all the time, under stress your hand may go to somewhere your pistol is not seated. So be sure to pick a carry position (appendix, hip, etc. and style – open/concealed), train it, and stick with it.

In truth, the traditional dogi that we wear in training is a hindrance. If we are truly training for self defense, we should actually be wearing what we typically wear day to day. You should carry your knife and gun in the same position (with the same concealment/deployment requirements) during martial arts training as you would in real life.

All that being said, John and I both choose to stay concealed. Given my urban environment, I feel it’s a better choice for me personally. So, my advice is take all those factors into consideration and pick your most common denominator for carry options. Lastly, be sure your choice is based on your tactical situation and not on a “Finally! I get to open carry!” attitude. One is based on survival, the other is simply ego.

Hope that helps.

In reference to the part of the original question about receiving undue attention from law enforcement; my LEO friend John, said that the attention also depends on the cop that sees you. Some will use discretion based on how they perceive your demeanor and attitude and may simply give you a verbal warning. Some will obediently follow the strict letter of the law and enforce that letter. You’ve got to use your best judgement based on your own personal situation and circumstances.

What do you think about Alabama being an open carry state? Do you prefer to carry openly or continue to carry concealed? Why? Please post in comments below.

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