The concept of law abiding citizens openly carrying firearms has many perceived disadvantages that have been brandished by its opponents. These arguments are both plentiful and varied but, for this article, I will stick to just one, the argument that the openly armed citizen is extremely foolish because he will be the first person killed in a violent altercation.
I decided to address this topic because it is one that I feel I am more qualified to address than most people who argue on either side of the issue. I am quickly approaching 25 years in the U.S. Army Special Forces; in common terms, I am a Green Beret. Most people do not know anything about what we do beyond what they learned from John Rambo so; let me briefly describe what we really are. We are teachers. We train indigenous people in the art of war. We are uniquely trained and staffed to turn an outlaw band of misfits into a well disciplined military force. This requires us to understand the full spectrum of warfare especially the unconventional nature of insurgency and counter-insurgency tactics. We must be prepared to be both wolf and sheepdog and I understand how to succeed in both roles.
Most of the people who claim that open carry is a foolish act have extensive military and law enforcement experience. This is understandable because they see the world only as sheepdogs. The sheepdog has the resources of the state at his disposal and has the luxury of challenging threats as they appear. They visualize a conventional force on force approach where they identify the greatest threat and eliminate it first. This is very natural and logical when you are not restricted by limited resources.
Criminals are simple capitalists; they must weigh the risk vs. the return based on their limited resources. They must choose a victim with a reward that exceeds the risk of being caught or killed. A number of factors must be considered and one of the greatest factors is the odds of a victim being armed. In a location where guns are banned, a criminal can rely on his stature and threats of violence to subdue his victim and risks are low. In places where concealed carry is allowed the risk is greater but still, even in locations like Utah where Concealed Firearm Permits are easily available, only a very small percentage of people actually carry a gun on a regular basis. Now imagine a location where the chance of encountering an armed victim is 100%. In this location, the risks quickly outweigh most returns which clearly illustrates the value of an openly carried firearm as a deterrent against the common criminal.
When the return is worth the risk of an armed victim it generally requires a trained criminal. The professional or determined criminal has greater resources and principles like reconnaissance and planning come into play. At Columbine the perpetrators were intimately familiar with their objective and planned to eliminate the one armed officer on campus first. In this situation, the school resource officer was a known constant and the plan included him. The armed citizen is always a variable and Trolley Square and the Colorado church shootings are good examples of how easy it is for just one armed citizen to crash a plan.
I have already addressed the risk vs. return in the criminal mind, how the reward occasionally compensates for the risk of attacking an armed victim, and the requirement for planning to mitigate the risks. What happens when the random and openly armed citizen enters the objective just prior to the assault? My training and experience tells me that if the objective changes then the plan must also be changed to compensate. If planning time or resources are not available to compensate for the change then the operation must be delayed or aborted. An actual case reinforces this concept.
Jose Vigoa is a KGB trained Cuban who is famous for “Taking Vegas by Storm.” He stole millions from casinos and armored cars and killed two security guards in the process. He admitted to canceling a robbery attempt on an armored car when just one man with a gun walked past his objective.
There is no way to know how many crimes have been prevented by just the visible presence of a gun yet we still hear the tales like the one told by Vigoa. It would be much easier to count how many openly armed citizens were targeted first but I have not been able to find even one situation after more than a year of searching.
After extensive study and reflection, I have come to the conclusion that openly carrying a firearm as a citizen is not a foolish act that will only get me shot first but rather the best crime deterrent that I can bring with me.