‘Open Carry’ Activists at Protests: Good or bad?

Justin King | TFC

Beavercreek, Ohio – Recently, there have been a number of demonstrations and events at which activists chose to openly display firearms for one reason or another. The practice has sparked a lot of debate within the activist community. Before delving into a subject like this it’s probably important to establish my personal practices regarding the subject. I don’t open carry. Ever. It’s a safe bet that if you ever seen me with a firearm, society as we know it has collapsed. I don’t even own a firearm anymore. When I did, I carried concealed. To me, it seemed more practical to maintain the element of surprise. I always looked down on those that carried openly. They were cowboys that were compensating for something. They were trying to intimidate by brandishing a firearm. In short, they were amateurs.

The first time I covered an “open carry” event, I expected to find a bunch of drunk rednecks and half-expected to see somebody shoot themselves or someone else by accident. I wore my vest in hopes of not being the person shot. I didn’t find a bunch of lunatics with rebel flag belt buckles that reeked of off-brand whiskey. I found a group of people that exercised extreme caution. They weren’t rowdy. They weren’t trigger-happy. Every preconceived notion I had about people who open carry was wrong.

As time went by, open carry became an expected part of protests in certain circles. I grew more comfortable around them as I became more certain that the activists I met that first time were representative of the type of person that open carries at protests.The events were always peaceful. Nobody was ever arrested. The events were calm and had a social atmosphere. My attitude towards those that chose to symbolically bear arms against the government changed from tolerance to acceptance.

However, it wasn’t until I was standing in front of a burned out pizza joint in Ferguson, Missouri that the tactical applications of the practice came into full view. The bearing of arms wasn’t just symbolic. There’s an old saying in the military that goes something along the lines of “everybody has a plan until first shot is fired at them.” I wondered if Ferguson PD would have opened fire on an unarmed crowd, tear gassed elderly people, and provoked a riot if bullets were flying back at them. It dawned on me in that moment amidst the smell of charred pepperoni and stale tear gas that the open carry events weren’t peaceful because of the character of those attending. They were peaceful because the presence of firearms provided a deterrent against law enforcement aggression. I thought back to the events where open carry activists were present. The only law enforcement interaction was when Ohio State Police stopped a waterboarding demonstration. We were conducting a live demonstration of torture on the Statehouse steps without a permit in an area we had already been instructed to leave. The officers probably had a half-dozen charges they could have booked us on. The officers stopped the demonstration and then immediately pulled back. They kept their distance. They didn’t arrest anybody. As I thought about it, I realized that officers always kept their distance at open carry events. The reason was clear in that moment: they were staying out of range.

At an event this week, I watched as Ohio Open Carry and armed Anonymous activists provided that deterrent for a #BlackLivesMatter event commemorating the one-year anniversary of John Crawford III being gunned down inside of a Wal-Mart by a cop who never faced justice. The event succeeded in completely shutting down Wal-Mart. Again, uniformed officers stayed well out of range. They never came within 100 yards (effective rifle range). They stayed out of sight. The officers did place a few plain clothes officers in a nearby parking lot to observe. I never saw them outside of their vehicle.

No matter what your opinion of firearms in general is, the timeless saying that “The Second Amendment puts the teeth in the First Amendment” is true.

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