Open Carry and Unintended Consequences

August 9, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sometimes laws have unintended consequences. I’m not sure what the intended consequences of Missouri’s open-carry law are, but they surely weren’t this:

A young man wearing body armor and carrying a tactical rifle, a handgun, and more than 100 rounds of ammunition walks into a Wal-Mart in Springfield, MO. This is cause for alarm. So the manager pulls the fire alarm, and shoppers flee the store. So does the gunman. Outside the store, an off-duty firefighter holds the man at gunpoint till the police arrive. 

The right-wing media portrays this as a good guy with a gun (the firefighter) preventing a mass shooting.

That’s one version. But the incident can also be framed as a commentary on gun laws. Missouri is an “open carry” state.  With the help of the NRA, legislators in Missouri (and thirty other states) have passed laws which say that as long as you don’t threaten anyone, you can carry your guns openly.
The young man in the Wal-Mart did not threaten anyone. He made a selfie video while pushing his cart through the aisles. When the alarm was sounded, he left through an emergency exit just like many other shoppers. Looks to me like he did nothing to warrant his arrest by the police. Also, since he never did anything to even indicate he was going to shoot the guns, the idea that the firefighter “stopped an attack” is at best an open question.

If anyone broke the law, it was the firefighter that Fox and the others are lionizing. The firefighter used his gun in a threatening manner, pointing it at a man who was merely exercising his rights under the Second Amendment and Missouri open-carry law.     

The incident points out something that gun-loving legislators usually prefer not to know: guns are dangerous; guns are scary. It wasn’t the man who was scary. He was doing what any other Wal-Mart shopper might have been doing. It was the legal weaponry he was peacefully carrying.

A Springfield police lieutenant said, “His intent obviously was to cause chaos here.” But the officer cannot know what the man’s intent was. Maybe the man’s intent was to show that if people panic when someone exercises their legal rights, it’s the people’s ideas and reactions that need to be changed. After all, in some places, an African American man diving into a traditionally all-White swimming pool might also cause chaos. Maybe a White patron would threaten the man, and the man would be “lucky to be alive,” as the police lieutenant said of the Wal-Mart warrior. (As we know, some African Americans who asserted their Constitutional rights were not so lucky.)

What’s the NRA to do? They love open carry, but they also love “good guy with a gun.” Their website still has nothing to say. Maybe it’s a classic case of cross-pressure keeping them from taking a stand.

UPDATE August 11: The Wal-Mart shopper, Dmitriy Andreychenko, has now said what his intent was, and it was not to cause chaos. “I wanted to know if that Walmart honored the Second Amendment.” As for the NRA, I entered Andreychenko in the search box. His name there is still unkonwn.

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