Thursday, November 11, 2010

6 Myths About Open Carrying A Handgun In Michigan

In Michigan, it is unquestionably legal for a person - at least 18 years of age - who has his firearms rights intact to display a handgun - registered in his name - in a completely visible holster as long as he is on foot and he is not present in a statutorily defined "Pistol-FREE Zone."

As a practicing "Open Carrier" of a visibly displayed handgun in a holster, I get asked a lot of questions about the practice. Over time, I have consistently heard six myths from members of the general public about Open Carry. Thus, this article will enumerate and dispel the most commonly believed myths about the Open Carry of a handgun in Michigan without a special license.

OC Myth 1: Open Carry Is Now Legal In Michigan Because Of A New Law

While Open Carry of a handgun is definitely legal in Michigan, it is not because of some new law that was recently enacted by the state legislature. In fact, the practice of openly carrying a handgun is legal in Michigan because there was never a law enacted that made the practice illegal.

The perception that a new law, authorizing open carry of a handgun, was recently enacted is due to the fact that many Michigan residents were not aware of the legality of Open Carry and that there has been a noticeable increase in the number of citizens exercising their right to carry an openly displayed handgun.

OC Myth 2: A Person Needs A Concealed Pistol License (CPL) To Open Carry A Handgun

It should seem quite absurd to an average person that a license to carry a concealed pistol is needed to carry a non-concealed pistol. If anything, it would be more palatable to believe that a person needed a "Carry A Non-Concealed Pistol License" to open carry a handgun. However, as stated earlier in this post it is legal to open carry a handgun in Michigan without any sort of special license.

The confusion about the necessity of needing a CPL to open carry a handgun in Michigan may be due to the fact that a CPL-holder is statutorily allowed to open carry a handgun in state enumerated Pistol-FREE Zones. However, personal property rights supercede open carry rights. Thus, for example, Ford Field security employees can bar from entry CPL-holders who desire to open carry a handgun in their sports arena - a state of Michigan enumerated Pistol-FREE Zone.

OC Myth 3: Open Carrying A Handgun In Michigan Is Brandishing

The most interesting thing about the term "brandishing" is that it is not defined in Michigan law, even though there are statutorily defined penalties for brandishing a firearm. Nonetheless, in a published 2002 Opinion, Attorney General Jennifer Granholm relied upon The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition (1982), at page 204 to define the term:

1. To wave or flourish menacingly, as a weapon.
2. To display ostentatiously. –n. A menacing or defiant wave or flourish.

Furthermore, the same opinion - referenced above - made the following conclusion:

"carrying a handgun in a holster in plain view, is not waving or displaying the firearm in a threatening manner. Thus, such conduct does not constitute brandishing a firearm."

OC Myth 4: Being Issued A CPL Invalidates A Person's Open Carry Rights

I'm not totally certain how this myth got started, but it is patently false. There is nothing in Michigan law that requires a person with a CPL to involuntarily relinquish their right to also open carry a handgun.

The most interesting thing about this misconception is that I have heard it with my own ears from only active-duty police officers and have gotten into many debates about it as a consequence. Furthermore, I have heard other folks tell me that they have heard this statement from law enforcement officers, usually CPL teachers, that they trained under to satisfy Michigan's CPL requirements. Hopefully, it is not a nefarious plot to discourage folks from open carrying firearms but merely a training issue with their respective agency.

OC Myth 5: A Person Open Carrying A Firearm Will Create A Panic

From my personal experiences and conversations with others who regularly open carry, it is a myth that unarmed citizens will be frightened at the sight of a person who is openly displaying a pistol. Of course, that outcome assumes that unarmed citizens will even see the handgun. Most people in the general public are too caught up in their own thoughts to be paying attention to anything that doesn't impact them in any meaningful way.

If you really think about it, the person who is visibly armed is not going to surprise you with the fact that he has a firearm in his possession. Accordingly, it is highly unlikely that a jacker or rapist is walking amongst the general public, while looking for victims to assault, with a .40 caliber Glock 9mm handgun strapped onto his waist. Criminals hide their firearms.

Furthermore, of those that do notice that a person is open carrying a handgun, many folks continue to go about their personal business as if there is nothing amiss. As I usually tell people, who are considering to engage in the practice of open carry, "if you act cool, they'll act cool." Sometimes though, a person will feel compelled to come over to you and ask if you are a police officer. In those situations I answer, "No. Open Carry is legal in Michigan." Most nosy people are satisfied with that response.

Moreover, the whole concept of open carry has gotten a lot of media coverage lately and more people are aware of its legality. A few months ago, there was a lot of hand-wringing and public debate between gun rights activists and local politicians about whether open carry would be allowed at the Arts, Beats, & Eats Fair in Royal Oak.

Ultimately, open carry was allowed at the fair and the imagined fears about problems were unrealized. In fact, the fair was well attended by the general public, no problems with guns occurred, and more money for its organizers was made than in other year when the event was held in Pontiac.

OC Myth 6: Open Carriers Lose The 'Tactical Advantage'

Visit any online firearms bulletin board on the Internet and you'll see a raging and never-ending debate about open carriers supposedly losing their 'tactical advantage.' Some folks have the opinion that if a person is open carrying in a place that is about to be robbed, he will be shot on sight by the bad guys before the place is eventually robbed. These folks reason that guns should be legally concealed so that can be used in a surprise counter-attack against the bad guys at the first 'tactically' determined opportunity to thwart the crime.

The opposing opinion is that if bad guys see visibly armed people in a place that they were about to rob, the bad guys would call off the attack and look for safer places to victimize. Most people who take this view, as I do, usually cite the fact that there have been no known incidents in Michigan where a person who was open carrying was shot before before a crime occurred.

The latter view is supported by some findings of a scientific study, underwritten by a federal grant from the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Justice Department. The research was performed by Professors James D. Wright and Peter H. Rossi, who conducted thorough interviews with 1,874 imprisoned felons between the time period of August 1982 and January 1983.

The study examined "deep-seated attitudes of criminals on the questions of weapons choice, deterrence, attitudes toward gun control, criminal history, and firearms acquisition." The surveyed inmates were from the diverse states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada and Oklahoma.

The Wright-Rossi Study had among its many findings the following observations:
- 74% of polled inmates agreed that one reason burglars avoid houses when people are at home is that they fear being shot.
- 34% of polled inmates agreed that they ran into a victim armed with a gun.
- 37% of polled inmates agreed that they had at one time ever been scared off, shot at, wounded or captured by an armed citizen?

In essence, from the above results it is reasonable to infer that most criminals prefer to attack unarmed victims and that criminals also take due care to not attack citizens whom they suspect to be armed with firearms. Thus, I believe criminals would not be likely to preemptively shoot someone who is open carrying a firearm.

Bottom Line:
A lot of misinformation about open carrying a handgun in Michigan is stopping people from exercising their right to bear a firearm. As with all information that reaches you on a particular topic, due care should be used to ensure that the information is accurate. In that vein, knowledgeable and reputable resources for open carry info should be consulted for guidance rather relying upon something that you overheard at a barbershop.
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