Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Personal Journey with Open Carry

[Note: This article was first published in "VA-ALERT: VCDL Update 9/30/09".  VCDL used to have an archive of their Alerts but now it seems to go back only to 2012.  Other sites, such as, republished it.  I am publishing it here on my own blog also for archival purposes.]

In 1971, at the age of 9, I was stuffing envelopes for a Democratic candidate I didn't even know, while on a family visit to Pittsfield, MA.  My mother had taken me and my sister to see relatives in the area, and one of the relatives was supporting a local campaign for office.  Two things I remember about the mailing party we stumbled upon during our visit were 1) one of the relatives making an impromptu speech about guns and how they should all be outlawed, and 2) I was a super mean envelope-stuffer.  People around the table were amazed at how fast I was assembling the mailing.  I distinctly remember the sound of those custom-imprinted nail files with the candidate's name and office on them, hitting the envelopes I was stuffing.

In retrospect, I probably wasn't so fast so much as everyone else was yakking a lot about the campaign.

Throughout the seventies as I became a young adult, I remember many conversations with my parents about gun laws in the United States.  The often bemoaned their still-(somewhat)-legal status.  At that time, I swallowed their line without question.

Then, in 1980, a friend handed me a copy of 'The Fountainhead', by Ayn Rand, and from there I became affiliated with the Libertarian Party.  I changed my mind about guns, but consciously declined to buy one for myself for several years.  I remember thinking about it, but I was too nervous about guns -- a relic of my upbringing -- to own a "real" one.  I had shot BB guns and even a small .22 during my youth, and it didn't seem a big deal -- but bigger guns seemed like magical objects to me.

That changed in 1993.  By chance one day, I saw a friend on the Henrico County police force, Officer Pace, looking through some collectible comics at a comic shop.  Pace had helped me on a couple of previous occassions (accidents or crimes I had witnessed, I think).

For whatever reason, we got on the subject of guns.  He told me that citizens can wear a gun openly, on their hip, or three points visible in a car, without a permit.  I'd been thinking more and more about guns in the years leading up to this, and I was looking for a way to increase public awareness of the law-abiding ownership and carrying of weapons.  Officer Pace's words on open carry inspired me to do more research on the law.

Eventually I decided that open carry fulfilled my goal perfectly, so I went to a local gun dealer and bought my first gun, a Davis P-380 semi-auto.  In retrospect, it was a laughable carry piece.  It was too small for my hand -- two of my fingers were all that could securely grip the handle.  But for the moment, it would do.  Besides, Davis Industries was a pretty cool little company.  It was a California shop, and it warranted all of its guns for life -- which came in handy when a couple of parts eventually broke on the gun.  Too bad they, like many others, were sued out of existence.

But in any case, I knew if I owned a gun, I needed to know how it worked, so about a week after I bought it, I stopped in at a then-brand-new shooting range, U.S. Training & Development (now called Top Gun Shooting Range), in Harrisonburg, VA.  I nervously bought my first box of ammo, a couple of targets, borrowed eyes and ears, and went to the lane.  On the first round I shot, my hands were so shaky I there was this nagging thought I should just forget it and leave.  But I squeezed it off, and except for a few jams that the attendant showed me how to handle, 50 shots went flying away just fine.

A couple of thousand rounds later, that gun is pretty much toast, and I have a better carry piece that actually fits my hand now.

But in between my first outing in the spring of 1993 and now, I have been in places all over Virginia with a gun on my hip, and have fired thousands of rounds through every conceivable type of gun at numerous indoor and outdoor ranges.

Most places I have been, there were no issues.  However, I was thrown out of the Valley Mall once in Harrisonburg (1995), I was asked to leave The Grey Wolf Grill (1998) at Willow Lawn Shopping Center in Henrico (ironically the Grey Wolf was two doors down from where that conversation with Officer Pace had taken place almost five years earlier), an old man in the buffet line at a Western Sizzlin in Henrico angrily asked me and my friend Chris why we were carrying, and verbally berated us for doing so, and a few other minor incidents of a similar nature.

I have been stopped once or twice for traffic violations, and it's never been much of an issue with the officer involved.

In all, I'd say my experience was positive, and advanced gun rights.

* My mother, who had been anti-gun all her life, started talking to me about them.  Eventually, she agreed to go target shooting with me -- the first time she'd *ever* held a gun, much less fired one.

* My best friend, Chris, began a gun collection and open-carrying odyssey of his own -- he now has more guns in more varieties than I do (a fact which I agree shames me).

* The barber I used to go to regularly began talking to me about guns and carrying, over the course of six months' worth of periodic hair cuts.  By the end of that six months, I accompanied her to a gun store to shop.  While she didn't buy that day, she did buy shortly thereafter -- and I treated her to her first 50 rounds of ammo and an hour at the range.

* When I bought my first house, one of my longest-term roommates was a good friend -- a fellow I'd sold a car to in 1982, and we'd remained friends ever since (must have been a good car to him).  After seeing me carry for a while, he bought his own gun, too.

* Another roommate was a student from mainland China.  I took her shooting with all of my guns also.  We had several interesting conversations about guns -- she told me that all Chinese citizens are trained to arms from a young age.  That meant shooting was nothing new to this bantamweight 18-year-old young lady, which surprised me no end. 

* Countless other friends have gone shooting for the first time in their lives -- with my guns.

I eventually created a flyer to carry in my back pocket about open carry / any kind of carry, just to answer the most common questions (unfortunately, as open carry has become more accepted and I've had to explain it less, I managed to lose my digital file of that flyer).  The gist of it was I'd been telling questioners verbally: that I believed a right not used is a right you will lose; and that I wanted to confront the image most people had of guns.  TV news had long promoted a very one-sided view of guns - they would show the aftermath of violence in DC readily, but they would put stories of people defending themselves in the dustbin.  The only other times citizens saw guns were when they were on the hips of government cops.

In short, I became a missionary for gun rights as much as I had become a missionary for the Libertarian Party.  It was a happy coupling, though.  The Libertarian Party has by far the strongest position of any U.S. political party on the private ownership of weapons.  Libertarians are probably more consistent on weapons than even some of the most radical gun groups.

My own version of libertarianism says that if a weapon is too dangerous for citizens to own, then it's too dangerous for governments to own as well.  Readers may then surmise that I believe as as the Founders believed - that individuals should be allowed to own & bear military-class weapons, primarily as the best defense against tyranny.

I continue to carry to this day, and it warms my heart to see so many others have joined the movement.  Thank you, Internet.

And thank you, Officer Pace.