Soon after I moved from New York City to Flagstaff, Arizona, I did a double-take in a fast food joint when I saw a man in line with a pistol on his hip. "Aren't undercover cops usually more undercover?" I thought. Then it occurred to me that he was just a regular guy carrying a gun.
Needless to say, nobody else waiting to order burgers and fries batted an eyelash. That's usually the way it is in places with long experience in what's called "open carry"—places like the entire state of Arizona.
To the editors at BloombergView, though, open carry is a looming peril that reveals gun rights advocates' extremism and terrorizes the cowering populace.
Employees of a Jack in the Box restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas, got a glimpse last week of an America where the more extreme element of the gun-rights movement has its way. Their reaction? They hid in the freezer. Parents in a public park in Georgia, confronted by another display of gun rights, called 911.
Both the employees and the parkgoers were reacting to the presence of armed men in their midst. Police, however, could do nothing to ease their anxiety: These hair-trigger scenarios are precisely what such open-carry states have written into law.
Actually, that editorial reveals that the editors of BloombergView are pretty damned culturally provincial. Open carry is not a strange, new phenomenon. It's common throughout the West, and even in eastern states like New Hampshire. New Hampshire Public Radio reported last year that the practice is long legal and increasingly common in that state. Manchester police underwent extra training to make sure they understood and respected the right.
The Jack in the Box incident occurred because, as OpenCarry.org puts it, "Texas is not a traditional open carry state." The armed and hungry people were protesters trying to change matters. They were bounced from Open Carry Texas, a gun rights group, for being so damned clumsy about it.
Georgia, also, "is not a traditional open carry state. However, open carry IS legal with a Georgia permit." The incident there seemed to be the result of sheltered suburbanites unaccustomed to the practice running into a guy who was a bit abrasive about asserting his rights.
Then again, some people are just dead set on pissing themselves over nothing. I witnessed attendees at a Cambridge, Massachusetts, office birthday party flip out over the sight of a pocket knife after they'd asked if anybody had something with which to cut the cake.
I still own that knife. The blade is 2.5 inches long. I told them that next time, they could karate chop the fucking cake.
BloombergView editors insist that "social norms long discouraged open carry even where it was legal" and that "the more such acts of intimidation take place, the more they will make manifest the divide between responsible gun owners and zealots."
Maybe. But a growing number of states permit the practice, and if people in New Hampshire can grow accustomed to neighbors openly packing heat, Georgians and Texans will likely do the same.
When I first moved to Flagstaff, it wasn't the presence of the gun that surprised me, but the open display. After all, like others I know, I'd spent years illegally packing heat in New York City, to ward off predators in a way that restrictive laws can't.
Somebody tell the folks at BloombergView. That should really get them to moisten their knickers.