There are a lot of opinions when it comes to the debate between open carry versus concealed carry. Heck, I have plenty of my own. However, I think the decision can be quickly informed by looking at the application context.
That is the question. Okay, maybe not “the” question, but it is a question that is asked often and it often leads to a lot of discussion which sometimes gets a little heated. The points made for and against each carry methods most often than not have a lot of merit, but often the points are made without full context or without applicable context. I might sound like a broken record, but context is everything.
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I’m going to come right out of the gate and say it. In the context of an armed civilian who is carrying a pistol for defense against criminal assailants, I firmly believe concealed carry is the way to go. I’m leading with this because the vast majority of folks who are debating the merits of open versus concealed carry do so in this context. There are certainly times when I will open carry a pistol, but the contexts are different and the parameters of those contexts inform everything including the selection of the pistol, the ammunition, and the carry method. I’ll provide some examples of this towards the end of the post, but first let’s look at some of the common discussion points in the context of the armed civilian and criminal assailants.
The topic of comfort always seems to come up in these discussions with the argument being that open carry is simply more comfortable that concealed carry. I agree with this statement. I find open carry to be more comfortable than concealed carry myself. However, what does comfort have to do with being properly equipped to respond to a deadly threat from a criminal assailant? I suppose one could argue that comfort plays a role in encouraging an individual to carry their firearm. That’s a weak argument though. If I recall correctly I heard Tom Givens made an analogy equating carrying a concealed firearm to wearing shoes in the sense that none of us were born with shoes on and when our first pair of shoes were donned we immediately attempted to remove them because we weren’t acclimatized to them. Carrying a concealed firearm is, in my opinion, more noticeable than open carrying a firearm. However, it doesn’t take long for one to acclimatize to carrying a concealed firearm to the point to where not carrying one feels off. Much like not wearing shoes when accustomed to wearing them.
Another point of debate is that drawing from open carry is faster than drawing from concealed carry. Okay, that’s true, but is the speed difference significant enough to really matter in the context of defense against criminal assailants? Furthermore, there is a difference in draw time between an outside the waistband (OWB) holster without active retention and an OWB holster with active retention mechanisms (what is typically referred to as a duty holster). The lack of active retention mechanisms on an OWB holster used for this context gives me a lot of pause and I’ll get into this shortly, but for now let’s consider draw speed. Assuming one has achieved a minimum level of competency with their defensive pistol, the difference in draw time from an OWB holster without active retention mechanisms and an inside the waistband (IWB) holster that is concealed with closed front garment is somewhere between 0.25 and 0.5 seconds. Will fractions of a second make the difference between success or failure in a self defense encounter? Possibly, but unlikely. The additional time also gives a self defender more room to decide whether or not to fire the initial shot and there is a lot of value in that as the presentation of a firearm has a high likelihood in psychologically stopping a criminal assailant. In my opinion, it’s better to stop an assailant without firing a shot as it carries less legal and financial risk in the aftermath of an encounter to a defender assuming the defender was legally justified in presenting a firearm. Beyond that there are a lot of contextual factors that are far more important when making the decision to draw than the fractions of a seconds gained from an open carry set up. In other words, I consider the speed gain from open carry point to be moot and irrelevant in this context.
Every now and then someone points out that a visible firearm worn in a respectable fashion can lead to conversations about the Second Amendment and may help convert folks who are ambivalent towards the gun rights issues to be for the preservation (or expansion) of gun rights. I consider the notion behind this opinion to be noble and have good intentions. Yet I fail to see the relevance to context. Now if the context goal is to raise awareness of gun rights issues, then that’s one thing. However from a day to day armed civilian lifestyle context, it seems to me like one is giving up some self defense advantages for a secondary cause and that’s not something I would personally do nor suggest others do.
“A visible gun serves as a deterrent.” I think this is a terrible point based on a dangerous assumption. That assumption is that criminals think like you or I do. Perhaps Massad Ayoob said it best, “the gun is not a magic talisman that wards off evil.” Criminals, for the most part, are opportunists. They also don’t value life nor respect property the same way folks of good moral character do. For some criminals, the visible gun is a possible reward worth taking given an opportunity with an acceptable level of risk. That type of opportunity is more often than not a moment where the potential victim is not paying attention. This means the best deterrent we have isn’t a visible firearm, but rather visible situational awareness. Combining the potential of a criminal deciding they want the firearm with a momentary lapse in situational awareness is what gives me the most pause about openly carrying a firearm in an OWB holster without active retention mechanisms. There have been enough documented cases of this happening for me to consider this a risk that can be mitigated with an OWB holster with active retention mechanisms and is better mitigated with concealed carry because the firearm isn’t advertised.
While concealed carry may take more effort to be acclimatized to, makes drawing the pistol a little slower, and may result in the loss of gun rights conversation opportunities, it does provide one additional advantage beyond not making us a target for a potential firearm theft attempt that cannot be understated. That advantage is the element of surprise. One thing the armed citizen can be fairly certain of is that the criminal isn’t playing to lose and they will use every advantage they can to achieve their goal, but they are human like rest of us and as a result fallible. While criminals are opportunists who don’t think the same way we do, they aren’t any more or less stupid than other people. They also have common expectations and have experienced a variation of social conditioning like the rest of us. In other words, once they have selected their victim and decided to act they are carrying out a plan with one or more premade decisions and a clear set of expectations. A common expectation is that they expect compliance. After the compliance occurs they have already decided what they will do next (of course they don’t always advertise that and if they do the advertisement may be false). To one extent or another they may also expect some level of resistance. With a visible firearm, they will undoubtedly have some thoughts about what to do if the victim reaches for it. Or they may have decided to neutralize the victim before taking what they want. Regardless a concealed firearm is difficult to plan for and when it is presented the surprise disrupts the flow of the plan. That disruption is a very powerful event that greatly increases the odds of successfully defending one’s self and loved ones. When to bring a concealed firearm into an encounter is also very important and depends entirely on the dynamics of the encounter. As such, it is beyond the scope of this post and maybe a topic for a future post.
At the beginning of this post, I promised to bring up some other contexts as examples when open carry makes more sense to me. The first context is for defense where the most likely threat is some form of wildlife. In this context, the element of surprise from concealed carry and the potential for firearm theft are both moot. Furthermore, the presentation of a firearm alone is not likely going to result in a psychological stop. For these reasons, I think open carry makes more sense and doesn’t necessitate the use of a holster with active retention mechanisms.
Competitive shooting sports is another context where open carry makes sense. In this context, speed measured in fractions of a second can mean the difference between a win or a loss. The rules of the competition will dictate holster requirements and carry methods. While deep concealment with an IWB holster may be allowed in the rules, it puts the competitor at a disadvantage against others with similar skill levels who opt for using an OWB holster without active retention mechanisms and with passive retention adjusted to the minimum retention allowed by the rule book.
I hope that it’s become clear that context is everything when answering the question, “to open carry or concealed carry?” Based on all the evidence I’ve seen, the training I’ve received, and the authored content from authoritative sources I’ve consumed, I continue to think that concealed carry is the way to go in the context of an armed citizen defending against criminal assailants. Whether or not individual readers agree with me, I think it’s important that the carry method one opts for is a well informed decision.
Originally posted at https://unclezo.com/2022/09/20/to-open-carry-or-concealed-carry/