By Eric Vought
On the way back, we decided to go back through Utah and then through Wyoming and Nebraska. The distance was about the same and it let us (our daughter and I, at least) see some more of the country we have not seen before. By this time the weather had turned quite cold. We woke up one morning to see snow on the mountains surrounding Reno. As soon as we got back into Utah, we were back into states which honored our CCWs, and this made it easier to bundle up without worrying about violating the law. My wife, however, rediscovered the thrill of putting an ice cold, stainless steel handgun into an inside-waistband holster…
Both Wyoming and Nebraska honored Missouri CCWs. Wyoming has an interesting CCW policy whereby residents who meet the CCW requirements (including having an applicable training certificate) do not need to actually apply for and carry a permit to carry concealed. Non-residents, however, still need either a non-resident CCW or a CCW from a state Wyoming honors. Open-carry is also lawful in Wyoming.
Wyoming is a stand-your-ground state but it only applies within the home or habitation (similar to Missouri). ‘Habitation’ is defined in Wyoming Title 6-2-602.d.i as “any structure which is designed or adapted for overnight accommodation, including, but not limited to, buildings, modular units, trailers, campers and tents;” and therefore clearly applies to travelers staying in a hotel room overnight. Nebraska, by contrast, allows the defense of justification to crimes involving weapons but one may have to endure a civil or criminal trial even when someone else was clearly the aggressor.
In the event, we never went through Nebraska. The threat of a significant snowstorm caused us to turn back south into Colorado and through Kansas instead. We stayed overnight in Wyoming and in Kansas.
Now that we are back from the trip and I have had some time to stew on the experience, I will close with some general comments on cross-state carry and on open-carry specifically.
First of all, cross-state carry is a bit of a legal morass. If you happen to reside in a state (such as Missouri) whose CCW most other states honor, it’s not too complicated going to most other states. There are always one or two, however, which make a mess and, if you are serious about complying with the law, complicate the entire trip. Illinois, for instance, is often the bane of law-abiding firearm owners on travel as was Nevada in this current case. This is one of the reasons I support national CCW reciprocity under the authority of the Article IV, Section 1 “Full Faith and Credit Clause”:
Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.
(see http://patriotpost.us/commentary/12973 for interesting commentary)
But even the most ardent supporter has to admit that reciprocity will not alone solve the multi-state-carry problem. Any conscientious traveler with a weapon has to look up the individual state’s restrictions on carry (May I carry in the car? May I carry in a bar? May I carry in a box? May I, ought I, carry with a fox?) and their laws on self-defense. But perhaps that is really no more than the conscientious motorist should do when merely taking a vehicle into another state. In the days of easy Internet access and sites listing state firearms laws, finding a good law summary is not that hard. Universal carry reciprocity would at least eliminate the issues we experienced with Nevada.
The bigger issue is with the concept of open-carry itself. I have elsewhere defended the authority of states such as Missouri to require permits for concealed carry given that they protect open-carry with no permit and that the CCW is a fair, shall-issue process. Reasonable interpretation of the 2nd Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms clearly does not allow a state to restrict both open and concealed carry, leaving citizens no practical ability to bear arms for lawful purposes. Indeed, Illinois has finally been forced by the courts to recognize that fact. This recent experience has caused me to question the premise of effectively requiring open-carry for non-permit holders against the backdrop of a society which expects firearm owners to be discrete in their bearing or display of arms.
As I said recently in another forum: “The inescapable issue is this: there is flat-out no way humanely possible to comply with a law requiring open-carry and be ‘discrete’ at the same time.” Legally, the only infallible protection from the potential accusation of concealing a weapon is to be obvious about the fact that you are armed.
There is a functional insanity in a society which purports to object to the dishonesty of concealed-carry and yet panics at the sight of an openly-carried gun. The latter would not be so bad except that the community and law enforcement tends to support the irrational panic above the actions of someone complying with the law and minding their own business.
There is also the simple and practical issue of weather. It is very difficult to defend the idea that open-carry supports the right to bear arms for lawful purposes when the law effectively requires you to strap a firearm to the outside of a coat in the middle of fripping winter or of a poncho in the middle of a downpour. Rain and damp, in particular, are not friendly to firearms and rusty, unsafe firearms are directly counter to the public interest. Regular open-carry either requires you to expose a weapon to the elements or sport a bulky, fully-enclosed holster which is the antithesis of discrete and almost always garners negative attention.
At some point, we either need to grow up as a society concerning irrational responses to the mere sight of a gun or recognize the unassailable right of a gun owner to exercise discretion in their carry as part of a Constitutional guarantee. Discretion or the practical needs of weather do not indicate a desire to conceal any more than the accidental uncovering of a concealed firearm indicates a desire to threaten.
The response to open-carry also bothers me from the point of view of security and emergency response. The response of Cal Neva security was preferable to that of the Silver Legacy to the extent that they never actually asked us to leave or prevented our carrying in their facility. Personally, I have no problem with someone being suspicious, especially someone in security whose job it is to be suspicious. Professionally, however, I have a good deal of criticism for security personnel who allow themselves to be distracted by open-carry. If the sight of a citizen openly carrying (and doing nothing else evoking suspicion or suggestive of unlawful purpose) diverts a significant fraction of security staff to follow or observe them, then security is not paying enough attention to the threats they cannot see.
While you are following me around, there may be a dozen people carrying a weapon concealed (lawfully or unlawfully) that you are not paying attention to, not to mention a person who may be about to commit aggravated assault with a chair or a fork from your own restaurant. That point goes to the average citizen or store clerk as well: I don’t mind your staring at me because I have a gun, but it may not be your best tactical move if you lose sight of what else may be around you. When I see someone with a gun or believe it likely that someone is armed, I note them and pay attention, but I don’t stop paying attention to everything else going on. Until they exhibit some behavior which is actually threatening or dangerous, there is no reason for me to change my external behavior at all.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this article does not constitute legal advice. I have provided this information and links to sources in the hopes that it may be useful. Please explore the references and available material for yourself, being aware that laws and interpretations of laws frequently change. None of this material constitutes official opinion or policy of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Auxiliary or of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office.