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The perils of open carry

The open-carry movement faced a very public test in Dallas last week. It failed.

While concealed carry can be championed ostensibly as a means of self-defense, open carry prioritizes performance over pragmatism. After all, openly carrying a firearm is an ideological statement more than a self-defense posture: It cedes the crucial element of surprise to an armed assailant. Open carry’s true goal is to normalize extreme gun culture by making firearms familiar, visible and ubiquitous.

Last Thursday, more than a dozen participants in Dallas’ Black Lives Matter protest came prominently armed. When shots from a sniper rang out, police officers had to discern instantly—working in chaotic conditions, at night, under firewhether the armed protesters were murderous criminals or something else. Police stopped some of those carrying guns, and designated one a “person of interest.” Trying to divine the intentions of the armed marchers diverted time and energy from the pursuit of the sniper.

This led Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings to observe that, “in a shooting situation, open carry can be detrimental to the safety of individuals.” That’s true as far it goes, which is not nearly far enough: Open carry is detrimental to public safety, period.

In addition to exposing the danger of open carry, the mayhem in Dallas revealed once again the inanity of the National Rifle Association’s “good guy with a gun” talking point. The simplistic assumption that the world can be divided between good guys and bad guys bears no relationship to reality. Before he went on a murderous rampage, there was nothing to identify the Dallas sniper as anything but a “good guy with a gun.”

In Dallas last week, open-carry activists did not serve as protectors. Instead, they heightened the risk faced by police officers and civilians and made a fraught, uncertain and dangerous situation all the more so.

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