On November 1st, people in Oklahoma will be able to openly carry handguns, so long as they possess the proper permits and have undergone the proper training. An article over at the New York Times suggests that it will become “common place” to see those with permits openly carrying handguns on their person. Yet the author of the article offers no evidence to support that claim, and further, the author seems to hide a sense of skepticism about the safety/viability of the open carry law behind a a veil of supposed objectivity. After all, why would the state allow citizens to openly carry firearms? Isn’t it unsafe?
I must preface this next assertion with the old adage that correlation does not imply causation. But when looking at the evidence, it is not all evident that open carry laws lead to an increased murder rate. For example, citizens in New Hampshire can openly carry handguns and New Hampshire has the lowest murder rate in the country (1 murder per 100,000 people). I am not arguing that liberal gun laws necessarily lead a lower murder rate. What I am arguing is that open carry laws do not necessarily lead to higher murder rates.
Beyond empirical evidence about the safety of open carry laws, I would argue that the freedom for citizens to own and openly carry firearms is a litmus test for the level of trust between the citizens and the state. For the state to allow citizens the freedom to own and carry firearms indicates that the state is not concerned with an armed rebellion from the citizens. And further, for citizens to own and carry firearms, and to not attempt to lead any sort of armed insurrection, suggests that the polity is not concerned with the state morphing into some sort of coercive body. Rather, the freedom to own and carry firearms lends credibility to the argument the state is, in fact, a legitimate authority.
It is easy, however, to be skeptical of open carry laws. After all, Weber argued that the state is the only body that possesses a monopoly on the legitimate use of the means of violence. Which is to say that, police officers, or other agents of the state, are the only actors that ought to be able to openly carry the means of violence, or firearms. Seeing private citizens openly carry guns, then, challenges the notion that the state is the only body that possesses a legitimate right to the means of violence. It almost seems repugnant to Weber’s definition of the state.
The freedom to own and carry firearms is something that should reveled and celebrated, rather than approached with a sense of skepticism. Of course, gun owners must be responsible, and act with the utmost care when carrying firearms. In short, gun ownership is not something to be demonized. Every citizen ought to be able to carry a weapon if he or she chooses to do so.