In last week’s article “With friends like this”, I took renowned historian and gun rights activist Clayton Cramer to task for criticizing both open carry and the gay community in his Shotgun News column. That article was primarily focused on pointing out that the gun rights community is engaged in a civil rights battle and we do great harm to the cause when we divide ourselves.
Subsequently, Cramer wrote an article entitled “Openly Carrying Guns Can Be Unwise, Even When It’s Legal” addressing some of the feedback he received from his Shotgun News column. Even though he noted that the response from gun owners was strong, he then proceeded to further attack open carry with some truly outlandish literary imagery. He starts off by calling open carry “offensive” and “disturbing” to our neighbors.
He then makes the statement that “Just because something is legal, even constitutionally protected, doesn’t mean that it is wise.” To illustrate his point, he describes a group of open carriers who visited an Idaho zoo. He notes that while open carry is a constitutional right in Idaho, Idaho also has “a very reasonable concealed weapon permit law” and implies that those who wish to carry should not do so as is their state constitutional right but rather via a state granted (and revocable) privilege. That’s right … let’s trade our rights for privileges.
He justifies this logic by pointing out that others might have negative emotional reactions to open carry. It is at this point that I wanted to cry out “But that is the point … We have to address those negative reactions, not hide from them!”
Our motto at OpenCarry.org is “A right unexercised is a right lost” and I cannot think of a better way to say it. If we allow the prejudice of others to dictate the free exercise of our rights, then we have already lost the battle.
You must remember that we are bombarded, almost daily, by a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle anti-gun media messages. It is amazing how effective this bombardment is, even for those of us with deeply held pro-gun beliefs. It is a dangerous mistake to assume that societal influences do not make an impact. They do! Mr. Cramer is a prime example of the fact that even gun owners can be influenced to treat firearms as somehow unwholesome and morally equivalent to waving around our “excretory organs.” (His words not mine!)
At the risk of sounding like a sociology professor, what we are dealing with is a general populace that has had their perceptions about firearms turned into prejudices by societal pressures. Most people are not anti-gun in the traditional sense of the word, but they can be counted upon to swallow whatever drivel is presented by the true anti-gun movement because the media is complicit in presenting firearms as negative objects rather than positive instruments of liberty.
Make no mistake about it; if we do nothing to counter these negative stereotypes, then our rights will be slowly taken away. Open carry is a very easy way to begin to counter these stereotypes.
To put it simply, open carry forces those you meet, be they friends, relatives or neighbors, to reconcile their preconceived notions and prejudices regarding firearms with the fact that you are exercising this right in a safe and responsible manner.
Anthropologist Charles Springwood of Illinois Wesleyan University sums it up nicely when he commented that open carriers are trying to “naturalize the presence of guns, which means that guns become ordinary, omnipresent, and expected. Over time, the gun becomes a symbol of ordinary personhood.”
What I find most ironic about this scholarly debate that Cramer and I are conducting via our writings is the fact that in his latest book entitled “Armed America: The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie”, he actually documents the fact that the decline of the visibility of the firearm in modern life has coincided with the rise of gun control. And yet here he is, asking us to stay in the closet and sit in the back of the bus.
Come on Clayton … you don’t hide apple pie.