Should you Open Carry or Concealed Carry?

In some states where we have a choice between Open and Concealed carry, questions arise, “Where and when is it a good time to Open carry and Concealed carry?”, “What are the pros/cons of each?”
Open vs Concealed logo

In this article I list out some pros/cons for both, some popular arguments along with additional empirical evidence to support them. Note that none of these are hard and fast rules, an ultimately it’s a matter of preference and choice.

Check the Laws & Regulations in Your Areas

On a federal level, there is no rule restricting your rights to carry in public, open or concealed, apart from some property owned or operated by the federal government.

Valuing scale
Laws and regulations

However, rights to carry differ among states and counties. Some states allow Open and Concealed carry with no need of permit, such as Arizona. While CCW permit is required and no Open Carry is allowed in states such as California.

Also, the definition of “concealed”, “open”, “carry” vary. How much is concealed? Which type of holsters could land you in hot water?

It’s best to check the regulations within your areas. Here’s a useful link to check out your state’s regulations : http://www.handgunlaw.us/ (They do have useful information for not just handguns.)
 

Which is the best in defensive situations?

One of the top priorities when considering between Open Carry and Concealed carry is how effective are they in case of emergency situations. Let’s explore various arguments from both sides.

 

Crime Deterrent

For the majority of crimes, criminals would pick easy, unarmed targets over armed targets to rob or assault. In these cases, wearing firearms could serve as a deterrent.

murder crime scene with yellow tape at night
A murder crime scene

Open Carry – Since one is carrying their weapons around, it’s easy for criminals to notice weapons and back down. There are quite a number of known cases for this.

Concealed Carry – On the other hand, a properly Concealed carrier would be viewed as unarmed, causing no crime deterring effect.

In some cases though, criminals can see know whether a person concealed carry by observing Concealed carrier for a long time or guess from clothing. Thus concealed carry contributes to some crime deterring effect.

Furthermore, there’s a hypothetical argument that if that the majority of people Concealed carry, criminals would be deterred on a general basis.

Bottom line – Open carry is more useful for crime deterring.
 

Cases Where Criminals Choose to Attack Armed Person

Earlier we say that the majority of criminals prefer unarmed targets and would avoid a fight if possible. However there are some criminals who choose to attack an armed person, be it Open carriers or law enforcement officers.

The question is how often/likely do criminals choose to attack people who is armed.

Unfortunately there is no research or study on this exact subject.

In order to answer these questions, I used FBI’s “Law Enforcement Officers Killed & Assault” (LEOKA) data as a proxy to give us a hint of criminal’s behavior.

Law Enforcement Officers Killed & Assault data 2017

SeattleHempfestPolice
The idea to this data is to determine whether criminals would choose to attack armed person (LEOs in this case). If criminals have the courage to assault LEOs, they shouldn’t hesitate to assault people who Open Carry.

Caveats for this data :

  1. LEOs could have better organized systems and teams, thus reducing injury and assault rate.
  2. LEOs could be better well trained.
  3. LEOs could have better gears.
  4. Criminals expect LEOs to try to stop them.
  5. Nature of the job forced LEOs to directly deal with criminals.
  6. LEOs have higher crime frequency compared to civilians.

 

Description 2017 Percentage (%)
Total law enforcement officers 596,604 100%
Description 2017 Percentage (%)
Officers Assaulted : 60,211 10.1%
Disturbance call 18,329 3.07%
Burglary in progress / Pursuing burglary suspect 894 0.15%
Robbery in progress / pursuing robbery suspect 498 0.08%
Attempting other arrest 9,505 1.59%
Civil disorder (mass disobedience, riot, etc.) 783 0.13%
Handling, transporting, custody of prisoner 7,493 1.26%
Investigating suspicious person/circumstance 5,697 0.95%
Ambush situation 292 0.05%
Handling person with mental illness 2,215 0.37%
Traffic pursuit/stop 5,108 0.8%
All other 9,397 1.58%

Source :

  1. https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/2017/home
  2. https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/2017/topic-pages/assaults_topic_page_-2017
  3. https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/2017/topic-pages/felonious_topic_page_-2017

Important takeaways

  1. Total LEOs – 596,604
  2. Assaulted LEOs – 60,211

Since “Civil Disorder”, “Traffic pursue/stop” and some other type of cases are irrelevant to Open carriers, excluding those cases we’re left with Disturbance call, Burglary, Robbery and Handling person with mental illness.

With the mentioned filters, we find that there are 21,936 officers assaulted or 3.68% of total LEOs.

Description 2017 Percentage (%)
Total law enforcement officers 596,604 100%
Officers Assaulted : 60,211 10.1%
Disturbance call 18,329 3.07%
Burglary in progress / Pursuing burglary suspect 894 0.15%
Robbery in progress / pursuing robbery suspect 498 0.08%
Handling person with mental illness 2,215 0.37%

To further make the 3.68% number more relevant, we will adjust for “higher crime frequency for LEOs”.

First there were 8,941,407 crimes in 2017 (Violent crime = 1,247,321 | Property crime = 7,694,086). And number of LEOs in 2017 was 596,604.

For the lack of data, we’ll assume that in all cases, LEOs deal with criminals at the crime scene or afterwards (due to this assumption, we likely have overestimated our numbers). Then we can conclude that on average, 1 LEO deal with crime approximately 15 cases per year.

Next we ask “How often do crimes occur to normal people”? Since US population is 325,147,121 at the end of 2017 and there are 8,941,407 crimes, we conclude that on average there’s a 2.75% chance for a crime to occur in a year to people living in US.

With this data, we can see that LEOs deal with crimes 545x (15 &#247 0.0275) more frequent than normal citizen.

Adjusting our 3.68% with 545x frequency (0.0368 &#247 545), we might conclude that for citizen who open carry there’s a 0.675% chance that he/she will be assaulted by criminals. In other words, that’s 675 people out of 100,000.

Note that we haven’t taken into consideration of :

  • How criminals might act differently against LEOs and Open carriers. Do they see Open carriers as easier targets than LEOs? Or do they avoid assaults because there were less need to defend themselves?
  • How Open carriers might act differently against criminals, since they’re not bound by duty to deal with the crime. Since they don’t go in to make arrests, are these people safer? And they don’t have a team, backups and system like LEOs, would there be more assault?

But we lack data on these parts, so we’ll leave our answer at this stage.

Casualties

According to the FBI, out of 60,211 assaulted officers, 17,476 were injured (29% of assaulted officers) and 46 officers got killed (0.076% of assaulted officers).

Open carriers might be less trained, but they may have less incentives to get involved. And we couldn’t determine without additional data whether injury and deaths rate from criminal assault would be higher or lower.

But if we directly apply rates from FBI, we would find that the percentage for injury from criminal assault is 0.196% for total Open carriers (196 out of 100,000) and the percentage for death from criminal assault is 0.000005% for total Open carriers (5 out of 100,000,000).

Note that by applying the rates directly, we’re implicitly implying that Open carry people have the same risk profile as LEOs, which is definitely not true.

When we consult our predictions with external data (i.e. news), we find that there aren’t as much assaulted Open carry cases as predicted. So 0.675% is a kind of an upper bound and the real risk probability is likely lower than 0.675%.

Frontiercarry.org has done an excellent job of aggregating past events relating to Open carriers and Concealed Carriers who got assaulted. Six for Open carry and another six for Concealed Carry. Check them out if you want the details.

Bottom line – Cases where criminals choose to attack armed person are quite rare, but possible.
 

How many guns were disarmed and stolen?

Another big argument against Open carry is that criminals can easily grab or steal your guns. It sounds like a legitimate threat but there are gun retention training and holsters to tackle this problem.

Thus, one wonders how serious the issue is when we have deployed retention strategies.

Unfortunately again, there is no research data on this exact subject, so I’ll be using the LEO’s data as a proxy.

Note that the same caveats stand :

  1. LEOs could have better organized systems and teams, thus reducing disarming and stealing of guns.
  2. LEOs could be better well trained.
  3. LEOs could have better gears.
  4. Criminals expect LEOs to try to stop them.
  5. Nature of the job forced LEOs to directly deal with criminals.
  6. LEOs have higher crime frequency compared to civilians.

In 2017, 102 officers were assaulted and injured with firearms, knives, or other cutting instruments. Out of those 102 officers, only 2 officers were disarmed and 1 officer had his/her weapon stolen.

Thus it appears that with adequate retention training and gears, the risk of gun disarmed / stolen is not high.

Bottom line – With adequate retention training and gears, the risk of gun disarmed / stolen for Open Carry is low.
 

How big is the draw speed gap between Open carry and Concealed carry?

Due to the fact that Concealed weapons could be buried under layers of clothing or are stored in unusual spots, the draw speed is going to be lower. But is it a significant one?

A stopwatch
Timing the speed gap

The answer is going to depend a lot on how one Open carry and Concealed carry.

But I tested drawing from an OWB holster VS. appendix Concealed carry and found that the OWB draw speed for me is 0.4-0.7 seconds faster.

So with some type of Concealed carry along with proper training, the difference in draw speed between Open carry and Concealed carry is not a big one.

However if you choose to conceal your weapons in a purse or shoes, those would have significantly slower draw speed than Open carry rig.

Bottom line – Training along with proper holster can make the draw speed gap between Open carry and Concealed carry rather small.
 

Element of Surprise

Even though Concealed carry doesn’t deter criminals, many people argue that it offers you an element of surprise.

Charles Bell, Essays on the anatomy of Wellcome L0031951

Suppose that at a local Walmart, a criminal goes in wanting to rob the store. Before attempting the robbery he scans the area near the cashiers and notices :

  • Case 1 : An open carrier walking around the store. The criminal likely decide to avoid confrontation. But on an off chance, he/she might choose to attack an open carrier first.
  • Case 2 : A few unarmed people walking around the store. Then the criminal to decides to rob the store. Now suppose that one of the perceived unarmed person was in fact Concealed carrying. In this case, when the robber is focusing on the cashiers, he/she might be in for a surprise from the Concealed carrier.

On the other hand however, suppose a Concealed carrier was instead walking along a half-deserted street. And a criminal was also walking around looking for his next target. Since there isn’t many people on the street, there’s a chance that the criminal will aim at the Concealed carrier, since he/she seemed to be unarmed.

My point is that if you’re already the target, because there are very few other targets around, Concealed carry might not provide as much “surprise” as you’d like.

Bottom line – Concealed carry’s element of surprise works best in public places.
 

Protection Against Wild Animals

Open carry is the best option for protection against wild animals since Open carry provides fastest draw speed. Plus you won’t startle anyone, and your weapons are unlikely to get disarmed or stolen.

American Black Bear Walking Through Shrubs and Grass
Open carry is the way to go in this case.

 

Which is more of a hassle in everyday life?

Since you might carry everyday, you’d want to consider comfort and some other aspects.

 

Comfortable Wear

Open carry is easier and more comfortable to wear in general.

For Concealed carry, you often need some additional layers of clothing. Imagine a very hot summer and you’re stuck with your Concealed carry jacket. This could dissuade some people from carrying everyday.

Bottom line – Open carry is more comfortable to wear in general.
 

Effect on Others

A lot of this depends on where you live. If you decide to open carry, and you live in a neighbourhood where guns are an everyday stuff, few are going to look twice.

On the other hand if the place you’re going has lots of anti-guns, Open carry might cause some alarm.

You might say that it’s your right, and you couldn’t care less about what others think. If this is the case you should do as you see fit. Some people also think that it’s a good idea to familiarize anti-guns with guns, as that is the only cure.

Police pullover
Police pull over called by alarmed people might cost you valuable time.

However, in some cases, alarmed people will call the cops and even though you’ve done nothing wrong, it might cost you valuable time.

And suppose you’re aware of other’s opinions about you, maybe because you’re operating a local business and want to stay on good grounds with all types of customers, or just simply don’t want to irritate others unnecessarily, going Concealed carry in public places is a better option.

On the other extreme if you Open carry, some people will enthusiastically come over to talk and share to you their Open carry experiences, which could be fun if you enjoy this but might be annoying for some others.

Bottom line – Not super important, but Concealed carry could help prevent you from irritating others, especially people who don’t like gun so much.

 

Maintenance

If you Open carry and live in extreme weather areas, you need to take extra care of your firearms as they can be exposed to detrimental environment (rain, snow ,etc.) and hampers your firearms mechanism.

For Concealed carry, the effect is going to be less, but you need to be aware of lint and sweat.
 

Raised awareness

Even though our evidence suggests that disarming and stealing of guns for police officers are rare, people who Open carry still need to be aware of their surroundings. But constant awareness could be quite tiring if you’re not familiar with it.

The risk is less for Concealed carry. But the need for situational awareness is still there.

 

Permits

Training, fingerprint, background check, delay and fees could be quite a hassle for some people. So check the regulations in your areas.

 

Suggested Prerequisites

For Open carry, it is recommended that you invest in weapon retention training and/or at least a level II retention holster.

For Concealed carry, one should consider how to conceal well since experienced criminals can guess from clothing such as BDU tactical pants, pro-Second Amendment shirts or a jacket on a very hot day.

 

Making a public stance for your 2nd amendment

Openly carrying in public could be a way for you to make a stance supporting the 2nd amendment. While you mostly don’t do that with Concealed carry as you try to look unarmed.

man talking into his megaphone
Supporting 2nd amendment not with words, but with actions.

But there’s no clear empirical evidence whether this strategy is a good for supporting 2nd amendment or not. It could be highly dependent on where you Open carry.

A case in California demonstrates this point.

“The open carry movement began in 2009 as a grassroots effort to exercise the right to carry a gun openly. Supporters openly carried unloaded guns to town hall meetings, protests, and large-scale meetups at coffee shops and restaurants. This practice alarmed the public and gun control advocates alike, especially in California. In response,Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill (A.B.) 144 in 2011, banning people from openly carrying unloaded handguns, and A.B. 1527 in 2012, banning people from openly carrying unloaded long guns such as rifles and shotguns.”

On the other hand, nothing like this is going to cause troubles in states like Arizona or Kansas.

For now, I don’t have enough data to make conclusions on which type of carry make the most positive impact on the supporting our 2nd amendment. But my personal belief is that if you carry, you already are a supporter of the 2nd amendment.

 

The choice is not mutually exclusive

Judging from how heated the Open vs. Concealed carry debate, it’s easy to forget that you can switch between the two in different circumstances.

Some people even Open and Concealed carry at the same time.
 

Conclusion

Choosing between Open and Concealed carry is a matter of preference. It depends mostly on your views on security, public images and comfort.

Whether you choose to carry openly or concealed, you are a proud supporter of the 2nd amendment.


 

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