Gun rights on Main Street: more citizens with legal “open carry” guns is not the answer

You’re sitting in Starbucks having a coffee and relaxing when another customer walks in with a big, shiny handgun in a holster on his hip and heads over to the counter.

Do you:

A)    Hit the deck in the fear that there’s about to be a robbery?

B)     Feel uncomfortable because of the menacing presence of this stranger and his gun in such a non-traditional, non-threatening setting?

C)    Feel reassured due to the presence of an apparently law-abiding citizen who is there to protect you with his crime-deterring gun in case some bad guy shows up?

In many states, seeing a civilian man wearing an unconcealed gun and holster in public may not be such an unusual occurrence. Image credit: ©

Think these are crazy scenarios?

Well, think again.

These kinds of questions are being asked and talked about across the U.S. as the pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies go head-to-head in communities with so-called “open carry” laws. That means that citizens are permitted to legally and openly carry a handgun with them, as long as it is holstered and visible. Some cities and other communities are exempt from such laws, making open carry weapons illegal., a gun rights group that supports open carry rights, maintains a map on its Web site showing the laws in each state. In Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia and any communities that have their own restrictions, you are legally allowed to carry a handgun as long as it is visible, according to the Web site You can’t, however, carry a gun with you in a vehicle unless you have a license to carry a firearm.

How does the open carry issue make you feel?

In a story yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, supporters and opponents on both sides of the highly emotional issue weighed in. The feelings on both sides are sobering.

The Starbucks scenario is not so abstract – in many states around the U.S., a person is allowed to legally carry a holstered weapon on their person in stores and other public places, unless the stores decide to ban guns on their properties, according to The Wall Street Journal story. That means that stores and chains like Starbucks are essentially being forced to take sides on the issue, which can cause havoc with supporters on both sides of the controversy. So far, Starbucks is choosing not to restrict open carry handguns in their stores. Other businesses have chosen to ban open carry guns on their premises.

There’s no easy legal answer here.

Yes, the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

But there are many interpretations of the amendment out there, and times have certainly changed since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution way back in 1788 and of its first 10 Amendments, also known as the Bill of Rights, in 1789.

So what to do?

More than anything, we think the safety of the public at large should be the central issue here, and that the best answer for that is getting and keeping both illegal and legal guns off our streets.

While guns are out there in our communities every day, whether concealed legally or illegally or carried in full view, their presence in a free society isn’t needed on a day to day basis.

Many gun advocates argue that having guns out in the general population makes society safer by having guns in the mix if criminals attempt to harm someone else.

But that isn’t necessarily the case. Having a gun available in many situations that escalate into violence or arguments would mean injecting a deadly option where it wouldn’t immediately have been available otherwise. Gun rights supporters, including the National Rifle Association (NRA),  insist that guns don’t kill people without the participation of a human being who fires the weapons. That’s true but that’s oversimplifying it.

If an argument happens in a Starbucks coffee store or anywhere else, the presence of a loaded gun now turns a possible fight into a potential powder keg that could have deadly consequences.

There are far too many illegal guns on America’s streets today, but that shouldn’t mean that we increase and encourage the spread of many more legal guns amid the population to balance out the threats.

There is a tipping point where more guns means more danger in society.

We have enough danger.

Instead of adding more open carry guns, we need to work harder to get illegal guns off of our streets, however difficult that is to do.

More guns on our streets, even if they are carried by law-abiding citizens, won’t make us safer.