Wednesday, February 20, 2008

HB473 to Allow Open Carry By Permittees

Open carry is a bad idea--but it shouldn't be illegal.

That's my take on a bill coming before the Utah State Legislature that will clarify the right of concealed weapon permittees to openly carry firearms in public places in Utah.

In a Salt Lake Tribune article entitled: "Bill would allow concealed-weapons permit holders to carry firearms openly", HB473 would stipulate that it's not illegal for CCW holders to carry in full view.

"The proposal would ensure that concealed-weapons permit holders are not required to conceal their firearms. It would allow permittees to openly carry loaded weapons into schools, colleges, hospitals and other public arenas. Proponents say the measure only "clarifies" existing law to ensure a right permittees already have, while opponents say open-carry would result in "untenable situations" at schools. "

Apparently current gun laws allow permittees to open carry anyplace where it's legal to carry concealed, but it's not totally clear. In other words, the law has been poorly written, and doesn't properly convey the intent of the legislators.

"I'm not saying [open-carry is] a great idea; I'm just saying it's not illegal," said gun-rights lobbyist Clark Aposhian. "This [legislation] is not creating new law. It's a definition of an existing ability permit holders already have."

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff spoke at the hearing, saying existing weapons laws can reasonably be read to both allow and prohibit open-carry on school grounds.

"I'm not taking a side," Shurtleff said in a Tuesday interview. "You just can't have different agencies interpreting the law differently. It should be clarified so everyone reads it the same way."

Additional confusion exists as to whether an inadvertent display of a concealed weapon, such as could occur when an armed man opens his coat to reach for a phone or wallet, constitutes a violation of the law, Shurtleff added.

Well, I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on TV or the internet, but if I understand correctly, Utah state law doesn't currently require law abiding citizens to have a permit in order to openly carry firearms. There are limitations, of course. For example, if you don't have a Concealed Firearm Permit, you can't openly carry a loaded gun inside a motor vehicle.

I'm not sure this is a fight worth fighting, because the rights of concealed carry permit holders is pretty well settled here in Utah. What this does is open up another can of worms regarding the rights of people to carry openly. Gun rights activists are going to have to fight and win battles all over again that they've already fought and won.

I'm not sure what the language of HB473 actually says, but my feeling is that it should state that open carry by permittees is not illegal in any area in the state that concealed carry is permitted. Also inadvertent, unintentional exposure of a concealed weapon isn't an illegal act.

Now, here's why I think open carry is a bad idea.

1. There is a strong counter-culture in society that is strongly opposed to regular citizens owning and carrying guns. Openly carrying firearms needlessly stirs the pot and riles up those people who would take any opportunity to strengthen gun control laws and confiscate all guns not issued by law enforcement or the military. The Second Amendment doesn't exist for these people. The fact that gun control laws only disarm the public and give career criminals a safe work environment is just so much rhetoric, to their way of thinking.

2. Openly carrying firearms marks a person as a target for theft or even worse. It's illegal for criminals to possess firearms, and a favored way of gaining possession of guns is to steal them. There have been many documented instances where people openly carrying guns were robbed and "relieved" of their hardware. Also, open carry marks you as a target for any person with criminal intent to shoot you first. A recent example comes easily to mind: the case of the digruntled citizen who entered a city council meeting, walked up to the armed police officer who was present, gunned him down, and then went to work on the city council unmolested.

I say it shouldn't be illegal to inadvertently or unintentionally expose your legal carry weapon, but let's keep them concealed if we can. The last thing I want is to be the focus of attention when I carry a gun into a room full of people.