You don’t have to look far to see a resurgence in open carry in this country. Stories have run on all the major news networks about people showing up at political rallies, shopping malls, and at Starbucks openly carrying weapons. Many of the people who are open carrying live in states like California and Illinois, where their Second Amendment right has been trampled on for so long and with so much fervor that they need to make a point. Sadly, these people cannot get concealed carry permits and many of them are carrying empty weapons in their holsters because they are not allowed to carry a loaded weapon in public.
And while nothing makes me happier than the thought of a Bay Area hippie holding his vegan fat-free soy mochachino latte standing in a puddle of his own urine at the sight of soccer mom carrying an unloaded Glock, we thankfully do not have that problem here in Louisiana.
Although we don’t currently have a law in Louisiana that says the open carrying of a loaded handgun or other weapon upon your person is legal, it is well settled that we don’t have a law against it either, provided that:
-you are over the age of 18 and aren’t otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm (convicted felon, mental interdict, etc.)
-you are in a place that otherwise doesn’t prohibit you from carrying a firearm (school, church or any private place where the owner has prohibited firearms).
So, you CAN carry a weapon openly in Louisiana (Generally speaking—I understand that certain municipalities have passed ordinances against the open carry of firearms, but I am not familiar with them.) Should you? That’s a much tougher question to tackle.
If you’ve read my bio or know me, you know I have worked as a plainclothes policeman and have worked undercover. For me personally, unless I am at the range or in the woods you will rarely, if ever, see me open carrying. The primary reason is that when you open carry, it changes the tone of every encounter you have. I’ve broken these encounters down into several categories.
This is the first and most obvious category. Although there is much more awareness on this issue, the unfortunate truth is that many police officers do not know that open carry is legal. It’s not that they are bad cops; they just aren’t as well versed in the law as they should be.
Further, even if the officer is aware that open carry is legal, you should expect to be stopped and talked to for a moment. Why? Because that officer has no idea whether or not you are a convicted felon and therefore committing a crime by carrying a gun. In much the same way that officer would stop and talk to you if he saw you using a coat hanger to open your car, a good police officer is going to have a friendly chat with you, verify your identity and that you have the legal right to be doing what you are doing, and then let you go on your way. They have not only that investigative right, but a duty to investigate when they have reasonable suspicion that a crime may have been committed.
For me, I just don’t need the interruption in my day. It’s a hassle that I can avoid, so I do. But if you open carry, don’t be surprised if you get questioned by the police and certainly don’t get an attitude. Your best bet is to politely explain to the officer the status of the law if he is unaware, and then comply with his requests. For better or for worse, a police officer is the single most powerful person in the criminal justice system. He can unilaterally deprive you of your freedom based upon his good faith belief that it is more likely than not that you are committing a crime. Do not piss in his Cheerios. You can beat the charge, but you can’t beat the ride.
People will stare, hustle their kids away, and look at you like a criminal. It happens. Not all the time, but it does happen. Sometimes they will call the police. You may get asked to leave the store you are in and secure your weapon in the vehicle (don’t go back in, because you have just told anyone with a set of eyes that there is a gun sitting in your car in the parking lot). If the generally uninformed public doesn’t do this, it’s sometimes because they are assuming you are the police, because to a great many people gun=cop. Although I would strongly advise you not to commit the crime of impersonating an officer, it is not against the law for you to play into their stereotype of what a police officer looks like with a high and tight haircut and a fit and squared away appearance (please note I said stereotype, we all know that there are far too many fat and sloppy officers out there). If you have long hair or otherwise do not look like a cop, the amount of people who will be visibly uncomfortable with you open carrying a weapon increases by several multitudes.
The worst part of this though is your perceived loss of discretion. If some hood comes in the store and robs it, everyone is going to immediately turn to you and expect you to do “something”. You are not the police and catching bad guys is not your job, but they will expect the guy with the gun to do just that. It doesn’t matter that the crackhead came in with a water pistol and the clerk laughed at him before he made it out with a rack of Slim Jims. The urging of those around you to react to a situation that you are neither trained nor legally empowered to handle could place you in a position of assuming civil or criminal liability. I’m not saying you shouldn’t defend yourself or others from threat of death or serious bodily injury, but I am asserting that you should make that decision based on your assessment of the situation and not based upon the fear or anger of those around you.
I saved the best for last. Why would you ever show your hand to your adversary? It is possible that the sight of an openly armed individual may dissuade a mugger or other criminal who had planned to visit harm upon your person and make him seek an easier target. However, it is equally possible that you could be targeted because you have a firearm (it’s hard to defend yourself when you walk around a corner smack into a baseball bat that knocks you cold).
Moreover, if the criminal sees your gun before you are able to react, the gun really does act as a “shoot me first” sign. Although your reaction time coming out of the holster is typically slightly faster in an open carry situation (depending upon the modes of carry), it’s not enough to outweigh the negative aspects of a criminal knowing you have a gun before you want him to. Any edge you can gain in a conflict like this is crucial, and the bad guy already has an element of surprise as the initiator of the conflict. The least you can do is keep an ace up your sleeve.
The last thing I’m trying to do is dissuade anyone from exercising their right to carry a firearm. I just don’t want to see you get hassled by police officers that may or may not know the law, looked at like a social pariah, or get shot before you ever have the opportunity to defend yourself.
I honestly cannot see any advantage to open carrying of a firearm on a daily basis. However, if you do decide to open carry, I recommend that you get professional training in the use of your chosen firearm, have the right attitude with both law enforcement and your fellow citizens that question you, and get a Louisiana Concealed Handgun Permit.
Why get a permit to carry concealed if you are open carrying? First, the permit doesn’t prevent you from open carrying, it merely gives you the option to legally carry concealed if you decide that is more prudent for a given situation. Second, it’s your official good guy card. If an officer comes up to you and starts to question you for open carry, by handing him your Louisiana Concealed Handgun Permit you are letting him know that you have already been checked out and are OK to be carrying that weapon. It should save you a lot of time and hassle. Louisiana’s a “shall issue” state for Concealed Handgun Permits and if you can’t get one, you probably aren’t the right person to own a gun anyway.
You can open carry in Louisiana, but there really isn’t a good reason to do so. This is only my opinion based upon my time in law enforcement and many years of carrying a gun on a daily basis. I know that there are people that will disagree with me and that’s fine. An intelligent discourse is always welcome in the comments section.