I should start out by saying that at no time in my life have I ever had the desire to dance wantonly in a minefield. With that out of the way, and with a deep breath – here goes nothing.
Finding a Common Ground
All of us have had the opportunity to experience a public shooting range. I would say “the pleasure,” but that would be a flat out lie. Most ranges available to the average Joe exist in a world where the 4-life rules of firearms handling died long ago. Muzzles wander aimlessly across owners and other shooters, fingers have set up campsites in trigger guards and everybody thinks that they are safe no matter who has qualms with their gun handling skills or violations they commit.
We see these people. We dread these people. As responsible gun owners we are related to these folks by proxy of also owning a firearm. Like an idiot cousin, we just wish they would stay home affixing boogers to windows instead of getting us lumped into their family tree.
We dislike these people because they are irresponsible.
Their desire to exercise rights granted to them as human beings and protected as Americans is noted, and very, very important. However, doing so recklessly and void of personal responsibility does nothing to support the cause.
We all see how the mainstream media only reports on stories of firearms use that meet their agenda. School shootings with guns used by criminals receive immediate coverage. Mall shootings where mass casualties were avoided due to a good dude with a gun are buried. Good people that mess up with firearms always find their way to the top story.
“Man shoots self in the head while demonstrating gun safety”
“6 year old accidentally shoots woman in car”
“Instructor negligently discharges shotgun in front of students”
We see these headlines, they are all over our newsfeed whether we like it or not. Regardless of the countless stories never broadcast of responsible citizens who utilized a firearm to protect life legally and appropriately, we must nod our head and say, “That’s truly tragic, however they were irresponsible and therefore at fault. Period.”
While we shake our heads at another story of someone being “dumb with a gun,” we know that the Second Amendment is far bigger and far more important than any one example (pro or con) of a gun being used. At the same time, there’s a force in this country that loves the idea of using tragedy for political and ideological gain to the detriment of the 2A rights of others. Each and every time a firearm is used irresponsibly, we feel the pinch as those who have long forgotten their oath (or human history for that matter) try to chip away at those who carry-on as responsibly armed citizens.
To this point, we can all agree that our goal as responsible citizens is to continue to build and cultivate a population of gun owners who understand what it means to exercise their rights properly.
We do this when we take friends and family to the range, we do this when we educate our children, we do this when we recite the life rules of firearms handling at the beginning of a training course. And while we continue to breed competence, we cannot allow complacency to set in and tolerance to exist for those who cannot act responsibly with firearms.
A Little Piece of Fabric, AKA “Oh Look, a Can of Worms!”
There has been a great many discussions (read all-out arguments) recently regarding the Open Carry movement (see here and here). Depending on the circle you travel in, taking a certain side can be near social suicide or a fast way to reduce your friends list on the bookface (queue any reference to the Outsiders or West Side Story gang fight).
In a sweeping new tactic for the remainder of this article, I am supporting both open and concealed carry. There’s plenty of room on this train and if you can stick with me until the end I will be in your debt.
We have heard all about the Open Carriers who walked into Chipotle, snapped a few shots of themselves, bought a burrito and thereby almost caused the Earth to cease spinning (see Chipotle makes official statement banning guns in their stores).
We have watched the countless videos of Open Carry activists who meander down public streets waiting with camera at the ready to have a heated rights discussion with responding law enforcement.
We have witnessed the “Carrying a Diamondback DB380 (horizontal) in a cell phone case on a floppy leather belt with almost zero retention exposed while wearing camouflage bottoms and displaying zero situational awareness.” Yes, this really happened.
And yet…you probably haven’t.
You probably haven’t because the same combination of aloof attitude, poor equipment and pure liability was covered by a simple t-shirt.
Concealed. Out of sight, out of mind.
Its Not the Tool, it’s the Tool.
I, like most, was completely taken aback when I found out that Texas…THE Texas…did not allow the open carry of handguns. Seriously. The state that symbolizes the cowboy with sixgun on his hip has decided that an exposed sidearm is a no-go for law-abiding citizens (see the Truth About Texas Gun Laws).
Somebody messed with Texas.
Why is this important? Simple. The only option that the good citizens of Texas have should they choose to open carry are black powder handguns, or, you guessed it – Long Guns.
With the word “Responsibility” fresh in our heads we need to start getting to our root concerns. The powers-that-be at Chipotle decreed from on-high that the random and unannounced sighting of and publicity from two dudes with semi-automatic rifles in their stores (i.e. Private Property) warranted a policy change. They chose to tell armed folks to ‘keep on walking’. And they can. And they will continue to do so as long as we (yes, we as the family of gun owners) continue to broadside neutral folks with our agenda.
Thinking as responsible gun owners, how should we approach such a situation? A phone call or meeting with management to let them know our intentions, or ask for permission as it is not public property. Want to march on the capital in a peaceful, armed protest? Lets give our LEO brothers a heads up, and make a plan to stick to public thoroughfares on our route. These are sometimes the needed steps to stay within the bounds of responsibility. Can we bypass it all by just draping a cotton t-shirt over it? Sure. But that is for the responsible person to decide if the work required is worth the outcome desired.
I should caveat this by saying that there are a great number of professional 2A organizations all over this county that at any given time might be working on any one or twelve issues in their state. As long as they are doing so responsibly, we should be supporting them, even if we don’t agree with them – and therein lays the rub.
We can’t waste energy over Open Carry vs. Concealed Carry. If it’s lawful, support it. However, we can and should all be standing side by side when any gun owner acts irresponsibly. 99% of the time, I carry concealed. 100% of the time I support competent carry.
But Just Put a Shirt Over It
Fair enough. And I do. I spent enough time as a LEO to deal with the fun of open carry. And frankly, I prefer carrying concealed. Where we as competent and confident gun owners get mired down is when we run every situation though the filter of our lives.
For some, carrying openly benefits their training level. Sure, anyone can pull the shirt from over their gun and draw it, but doing it proficiently takes work. There are a lot of great schools and instructors out there who specialize in concealed carry courses (see Mike Pannone, Matt Jacques and more), but those cost money, time and sometimes travel. Sometimes open carry is the only option. It’s very easy for me to sit here and think how silly it is for someone to open carry a handgun, let alone a rifle as I have all sorts of options at my disposal.
Here in Michigan, you may open carry a firearm without a permit. Once you get in a vehicle, you are concealing it and thusly must remove and store it prior to travel. A concealed pistol license will run a law abiding citizen around $300 once you take the class, get fingerprinted, pay the paperwork fee, pay for photos and postage/gas cost.
There are a lot of good citizens that if handed $300, would be far more concerned about putting food on the table or gas in the car than getting a CPL.
We should all be far more concerned that good people can be priced out of defending themselves than which carry method they choose.
Enter Michael LaMay. This video popped up on my radar from a friend on the other side of the country. Interestingly enough, it was from a local news channel here in Michigan. The moment I finished watching this video I knew I was moments away from the flood gates opening.
“What a moron.”
“Another Open Carry Activist ruining it for all of us.”
Comment after comment from those of us that could never picture ourselves doing what the man in the video was doing. From the video, we see a man with a rifle walking his daughter to a bus stop, a police cruiser nearby, a pissed off neighbor (who is a felon according to the LEO source) and a few statements from both the reporter and her subject.
What did we miss? Because just a week before, two men with rifles ruined Chipotle for the rest of armed America so this guy must be one of “them.”
Feeling like something was truly being missed, I made contact with Mr. LaMay and requested an interview. Ardent open carry supporter Doug Holloway from ATEi and I made the few hour drive to Muskegon Heights to sit down with Michael and his wife to find out what would prompt him to act as he did.
Michael is a veteran of the US Navy and has been in “the Heights” for 20 years now. Like many residents of cities and towns around the US, they have seen the good folks move out and crime move in. Weeks before the video aired on the news, a local teen was shot and murdered just blocks from his daughter’s bus stop for the sole reason of being “a kid from the Heights” according to the killer in his confession.
LaMay, who was very close to his grandparents, has always felt more confident with a rifle than a handgun. His grandfather would demand discipline and accuracy when hunting, telling Michael and his brother, “Hit your target with one shot or you’ll go hungry.”
Using what he had from his income tax return, Michael purchased what he could afford, a Savage semi-auto .22 rifle on the premise of using it for small game, and home defense if need be. Like most of us, he acknowledged the shortcoming of the rifle for defense, but he chose to make the best of what he had. When asked if he would prefer a handgun to carry, he said, “absolutely, that would make things far easier.”
Shortly after the murder of the local youth combined with a relatively non-existent police presence in the area, LaMay decided that he would ensure the safety of his daughter to the best of his ability by escorting her to-and-from the school bus stop with his one gun, muzzle up, finger off the trigger, while holding the hand of his loved one with his other arm.
A few weeks after his daily escort started, he was passed by a Muskegon Heights police officer who stopped Michael demanding to know what he was doing. After some discussion with the officer who had clearly never dealt with a good person touting a rifle around and a voluntary detention of his weapon, Michael received an apology and support from the officer who stated, “Mr. LaMay, I wish we had more people like you.” It was this incident that prompted the news story when LaMay made a public post on the police department’s Facebook page thanking the officers involved for their professionalism and support.
Since the news story, Michael’s daughter’s bus stop has been moved to right outside his home. Not to protect young Ms. LaMay, but from Timberland Charter Academy’s President Dorothy Scott’s desire to stop a resident from openly carrying a firearm. An interesting stance given Councilwoman Scott’s statement from 2010 regarding ending local violence: “It’s going to take everybody’s help. It’s going to take parents. It’s going to take neighbors. It’s going to take more than the police.”
After the facts pertaining to Michael’s actions started to perforate the fog of the Open Carry vs. Concealed Carry fight, support has come in from all over the country. Members of AR15.com have purchased everything from an NRA Life Membership to dresses for Michael’s daughter. Spikes Tactical built an AR-15 just for Michael and his family so he has a better home defense tool. Steve Fisher at Sentinel Concepts provided magazines and ammunition, scores of others have donated funds and goods, and ATEi along with the Michigan Defensive Firearms Institute are taking care of Michael’s CPL cost, providing him with a carry handgun of his choice, support gear that he needs and training for his defensive tools.
Whats the Next Step?
Stories like these are passed over far too often, or get mixed in with stories that seem similar but are not. As gun owners, we need to stop judging others by the tools they carry and the way they carry them. We need to start breaking our collective actions down into the categories of responsible and irresponsible. Many times folks don’t know what they don’t know. Be the voice and example of responsibility. Those that choose to act outside the realm of acceptable actions will soon find themselves the inappropriate minority.
When we paint other firearm owners into groups solely on appearance and not by actions, we alienate what could be good allies on a united front of good people properly exercising their rights from a variety of platforms.
Support those that choose to own a firearm. Support those that choose to carry a firearm. Support those that choose not to do either. Give no ground to those who would demand you disarm.
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