"Courage Is Not a Man With a Gun in His Hand": Atticus Finch and the Open Carry Fad

American actor Gregory Peck (1916 - 2003) stars as lawyer Atticus Finch in the film 'To Kill a Mockingbird', directed by Robe
American actor Gregory Peck (1916 - 2003) stars as lawyer Atticus Finch in the film 'To Kill a Mockingbird', directed by Robert Mulligan, 1962. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

While I doubt that the great American novel To Kill a Mockingbird is on the NRA's or the various "open carry" groups reading lists (one wonders what is), it might be useful to revisit one of the pivotal chapters in Harper Lee's compelling novel in order to understand the mentality behind armed groups of mostly white men laying siege to family restaurants.

In the book, a "mad dog" threatens the town. Growling and foaming at its mouth, the rabid dog represents ignorance and intolerance, yet no one is willing to confront it. Mild mannered attorney Atticus Finch steps up, and stuns his two children as he shoots the dog dead with a single rifle shot, even though the dog was a great distance away. The children didn't think that their father possessed that particular talent, as he was more an enlightened man of letters than a man typical of that locale and era (fictional Maycomb County in all-too-real southern Alabama during the 1930s).

Sheriff Heck Tate confirms Finch's prowess with a rifle by posing this rhetorical question to the children, "Didn't you know your daddy's the best shot in this county?"

While "One-Shot" Finch was clearly a marksman, it was a skill that he didn't wear strapped to his shoulder, as he preferred to impart more useful lessons to his children. Take this one in particular:

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know that you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.

That quote should serve as a rallying cry to any person or group pushing for sane gun laws, as they stand up to the ingrained and institutional frenzy of the "guns anywhere, anytime, anyhow" crowd. Curiously enough, while Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and the Republican dominated legislature recently enacted a law allowing guns in almost any location, they decided that their actual legislative building should be off-limits for weapons. Hey, open carry, here's a new cause for you! Deal's against the Second Amendment! Strap on the AR-15s, boys, and make sure you bring the cameras!

One wonders what Atticus Finch would think of many in these open carry groups, as they brandish their long guns in a pack mentality, badgering any person who dares to stand up to their frightening display of misplaced priorities and caliber-heavy bravado.

Fortunately, several of the restaurant chains that have been visited by the heavily-armed open carry groups are standing up for sanity (and a majority of their customers) by asking that people enjoy their food and service free of the dangerous and intimidating presence of one's personal arsenal.

This hasn't sat too well with some of the open carry members. One group harassed and chased a person who was filming their activities several blocks, then publicized his vehicle and license plate. Naturally, a fair amount of epithets accompanied their zealous defense of their right to act like idiots.

Interestingly and ironically enough, if open carry participants were charged with a crime, Atticus could probably be counted on to defend them. Of course, one is a fictional character while the others, unfortunately, are not.

Mark Benoit is a public relations strategist, and registered gun owner, who's worked on 36 political campaigns -- from presidential to judicial. On the government side, he served on the staff of New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins and as chief of staff to Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.