Making Open Carry Safer

The Safariland 0701 retention holster prevents the gun from being "snatched"
The Safariland 0701 retention holster prevents the gun from being “snatched,” a serious consideration when open carrying.

A number of jurisdictions allow law-abiding private citizens to carry loaded handguns, exposed, in public. This chapter will focus on two specific elements of open carry, which have been called into discussion by those in the gun owners’ rights movement who think carrying concealed is a better idea.

Those two particular elements are discretion, and handgun security against snatch attempts. By discretion, we mean a method of carry that, while exposing the gun, does not call attention to it. You don’t want to “frighten the horses.” You don’t necessarily want any criminal in sight to realize that if he blindsides you with an ambush from behind, your firearm is his for the taking. Unless you’re a show-off screaming silently for attention, you want as few people as possible to notice the exposed handgun.

Handgun security against snatch attempts is something cops came to terms with long ago. Any officer will tell you, “In any conflict where someone is within arm’s reach of you, they have a gun within their arm’s reach: your gun.”  Since open carry allows a present or potential antagonist to see that you do have that gun, you want it to be held in something that will not yield it up to the first clutching hand.

Discreet Appearance

I learned early that “protective coloring” extends to the visibly armed citizen as surely as it does to the beasts of the forests, the denizens of the sea, and the fowl of the air. For polar bears, protective coloration is “white on white.” The reflective surfaces of metal are such that a chrome-plated, pearl-handled gun may actually be more conspicuous against a white shirt with white slacks. However, a matte black gun and holster almost disappear against black clothing.

Some years ago, in North Carolina, I arrived to teach a deadly force class and was told that, cop or not – even though I was officially on police business and teaching in a police academy setting – I could not carry concealed as an out-of-state policeman unless I was extraditing a felon. I asked about non-resident carry permits or permit reciprocity: no dice. I asked if there were any avenues at all. “Sure,” said one indigenous cop, “just carry it exposed in the holster. We have ‘open carry’ here.”

I do not care for the “frighten the horses” effect of open carry. However, I also do not care to be unarmed and, therefore, all but helpless against the armed. Suddenly, open carry was looking more attractive. In fact, I took to it like a duck to water. (Well, maybe like a reluctant duck that didn’t like water very much.)

The handgun I was carrying that week was a blue steel Colt Python 357 Magnum revolver, with black Pachmayr grips. I wore it most of the time in an inside-the-waistband holster I had designed for Mitch Rosen, the Ayoob Rear Guard (ARG). Even with most of the mass of the weapon obscured from view by the inside-the-waistband design, the weapon was clearly visible against the royal blue trainers’ shirt generally worn by my school’s staff.

While on that trip, I had to do a film for a trial that showed how rapidly a certain suspect could have disarmed and shot the officer who had been forced to kill him to keep that from happening. On the day of the filming, I happened to be wearing a black polo shirt and black BDU pants. A photographer was taking stills while the cinematographer was shooting the video.

Later, in court, I had occasion to closely examine not only the videotape, but also the giant blow-ups of the stills that were introduced as evidence. A couple of people in the courtroom told me that they’d hadn’t realized that I was armed, even though the big 41-framed revolver was toward the cameras and in plain sight. I asked a few other folks, showing them the pictures, and most when subsequently asked hadn’t noticed that I was wearing the big six-gun.

Hmmm…interesting.

Black clothing helps make a black pistol less obvious.
Black clothing helps make a black pistol less obvious.

I thereafter made it a point to bring black or very dark gray gun, holster, shirts, and trousers whenever it looked as if I would have to “open carry.”  The gorgeous, high polish Royal Blue of the Python had not reflected enough to show up in the pictures or the video, but that was only because the ARG holster hadn’t exposed much of its sideplate. Later experience with flat black Glock pistols, and a Kimber with a flat gray/black finish that resembles Parkerizing, showed me that these finishes blended beautifully with black holsters and belts, and black clothing.

The holstered guns were still in plain sight. They could be spotted by someone looking for them. But they did not draw the eye.

One evening I found myself stopping on the way home from the range at a supermarket that must have had a hundred people in it. I was open-carrying the dark Kimber 45 cocked and locked in a black basketweave Gordon Davis thumb-break holster on a matching Bianchi dress gun belt, with black polo and black BDUs. The old “one of a hundred people will notice” prediction absolutely came true. The only person who showed indication of having spotted the big military auto pistol was a little girl, and that was probably because she was only a couple of feet away from me in the aisle, and her height put her at eye level to the gun.

I saw the little tyke’s eyes widen in alarm, and watched as she urgently grabbed her dad’s sleeve and began tugging. When he looked down, she wordlessly but vigorously pointed at the 45. I had made a point to wear my police badge clipped in front of the scabbard, and her dad spotted it at the same time he saw the pistol.

“Aw, it’s OK, honey,” I heard him tell her gently. “He’s a po-lice.”

So far, so good. There are some dads out there who might be macho enough to feel a need to impress their kids if those kids were alarmed by what the father perceived as an ostentatious display of a deadly weapon. In this case, there was no problem. And the lesson is, black gun in black holster against black clothing draws very little attention from those who aren’t at eye level with the handgun.

As noted earlier, an inside the-waistband holster buries much of the gun in the lower body’s clothing. The gun is still exposed per se, and therefore still openly carried. In a jurisdiction where the given person is legal to carry openly but not concealed, that’s an important distinction to bear in mind.

Learn more about self-defense handgun check out the Gun Digest book of Concealed Carry by Massad Ayoob.
Learn more about self-defense handgun check out the Gun Digest book of Concealed Carry by Massad Ayoob.Buy Now »

In theory, one could resort to genuine camouflage. Several manufacturers have produced pistols and revolvers with camouflage finishes, including recognized patterns such as Woodland. I’ve often wondered about getting one of those, and a matching camo set of belt and fabric holster, and wearing it outside pants and shirt in the same camo pattern. Would it conceal as well as black on black on black on black?  Probably. Maybe better.

I haven’t tried it yet. The reason is, while a camouflage thing is going with the black on black, the color black is not considered camouflage per se. A regular camouflage pattern most certainly would be. One definition of “camouflage” is “concealment.”  If a camo gun was openly carried in a camo holster against camo clothing, all matching, could a creative anti-gun prosecutor convince a grand jury to indict for concealed carry, if the latter was against the law in that time and place? Almost certainly.

Now, whether that case would be decided against the armed citizen at trial would be something else again. It would make a fascinating test case. Since my mother did not raise me to be a test case, I’ve never undertaken the experiment to find out. If y’all want to do so, feel free, and let me know in care of the publisher how it worked for you. However, neither the publisher nor I will take any responsibility for what happens. And, yes, my tongue is slightly in my cheek as I write this…

This article and its Part II (below) of this article excerpt on Open Carry from the Gun Digest Book of Concealed Carry.

Click here to read part two, Making Open Carry Safer, Part II.

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