Monday, December 20, 2010

Won't people freak out and call the police if I openly carry a gun?

Short answer: It's possible, but not common.

Utah is a very gun-friendly state, and many residents of Utah have some familiarity with guns. In addition to that, people tend to assume that the calm, confident actions of a normal-looking person must be legal and most people are, frankly, oblivious to most of what goes on around them.

These factors combine to mean that open carriers find that the vast majority of people simply don't notice the gun, especially if it's not large or ostentatious, the majority of people who do notice the gun don't react to it and most of those who react ask questions or make comments rather than calling the police. People who open carry regularly report that the most common interactions are very positive ones, where the carrier has an opportunity to explain the issues to the curious or just engage in “gun talk”, chatting about shooting, firearms and lawful self-defense.

That said, negative interactions do ocasionally occur. Most often these take the form of store or restaurant employees asking the open carrier to leave. Sometimes these requests are provoked by questions from other customers but most often they are initiated by employees. The appropriate response of the open carrier to such a request is not to argue or debate the point, but simply to comply, ideally without completing a purchase and with a followup letter or e-mail to explain the carrier's point of view and to request clarification of the store policy.

In rare cases the police are called and become involved. In some areas, 911 operators are being trained to question “person with a gun” reports, asking what the person is doing, if he or she is threatening anyone, etc. In those areas, police are unlikely to be dispatched. If police do arrive, interactions are generally peaceful, though not all police officers are fully informed on the law so some may make false statements regarding the legality of open carry. If you are the recipient of police attention due to open carry, please stay calm, stay polite and if the officer is making incorrect statements, just say “I'm sorry officer, but I don't think that's correct. Can you please ask your supervisor to verify it?”.

If you are a person who has an unusual style of dress, hairstyle or appearance, especially if your appearance is one that might be associated with gang or criminal activity by many people, or if you appear or act intimidating or frightening even without a firearm, you are much more likely to have negative interactions and police interactions as a result of open carrying. This may not be fair or right, but it is reality. Also, young people and those who engage in body modification (piercings, tattoos) are more likely to have negative experiences with open carry. In contrast, well-dressed, well-groomed, responsible-appearing people tend to have no issues.

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