Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Parallels on Open Carry

1/24/2014
Dan Griffin

I open carry a firearm quite simply for comfort, convenience, deterrence, and activism—to normalize it among the general populace. While many people may agree with the concept of open carry, they often choose not to do it themselves because of the perceived potential conflicts with law enforcement or the general population.

In their March 1963 issue, Reader’s Digest printed a story about a black man who was admitted to the Arkansas School of Law in 1949. The Dean set him up with a room in the basement in which to stay between classes. The Dean ordered law library books delivered to him, commanded him to not wander around campus, and mapped out a back route for him to strictly follow to get in and out of his basement hideaway. Out of sight, out of mind. Keep the peace. Hide yourself from others.

He could have chosen to attend a law school in the north where he wouldn’t have to live like a pariah, but he didn’t. His and his father’s belief was that segregation wouldn’t end until beachheads were opened wherever it existed. What he was doing was legal, yet he and his legal activities were looked down upon. Even fellow blacks disapproved of what he was doing and avoided him. They thought he walked a knife edge and they didn’t want to be around him. He was harassed and threatened, yet he tried to maintain the correct temperament and persisted, year after year.

One day he was invited to a meeting of fellow travelers, people who in theory should have been supportive. They asked what they could do. He told them they could treat him normal, like everyone else. He expanded on that, and afterward there was acceptance with them. Over time a slight thaw began to take place with others at the university. He still experienced fear and hate, but slowly, little by little, the general populace began to accept him.

By his last year he had been asked to write for the Law Review. The faculty chose him to be a moot court defense attorney, and his Law Review colleagues picked him as comments editor. At the end of the year the distinguished alumni returned for a faculty banquet that included a salute to the Law Review staff. He was the last to be introduced. The Law Review editors stood and applauded. Then the faculty stood up and added to the cheers and applause. Then the alumni stood, the judges, lawyers, and politicians from the Deep South. The ovation became thunderous.

Let’s take that story and substitute the firearms open carrier for the black man, our everyday surroundings for the Arkansas School of Law, and all the other people we encounter in our everyday life who look askance at or fear gun-owners in general and open carriers in particular for the other students. The other blacks that shunned him for being too prominent are now fellow gun-owners that believe the open carrying of a firearm is just asking for trouble. The fellow travelers are ones who claim to represent and defend liberty and freedom, yet are still standoffish. And although not brought out in this particular story, law enforcement will sometimes mistreat each for perfectly legal activities.

People who choose to carry their firearms openly sometimes suffer ostracism from society, as did this black student. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t mean to equate the two, for they are not equal. They do not have the same gravity. They do not have the same milieu. They do not have the same consequences. One is chosen, one is not. Yet a parallel can still be drawn, and with the right attitude and persistence maybe—just maybe—we can turn people’s minds around on the idea of open carrying for self-defense, just as that young black man did on the campus of the Arkansas School of Law, and it will one day receive widespread social acceptance. Some may never accept the open carry of firearms, or for that matter the concealed carry of firearms or the civilian ownership of firearms in general, but we need to do our part to ensure those activities remain legal.

Oh, the black student’s name was George Haley. He became a respected attorney, Deputy City Attorney, diplomat, and policy expert. He helped found a number of business firms and was Vice President of the state Young Republicans. He served in national administrations under Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush. You might have heard of his brother, Alex Haley.

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