As the Fourth of July approaches, a number of "open carry" gun activists plan to celebrate American freedom with a show of weapons. According to the Texas Firearms Freedom website, three events are planned in Texas alone.A Facebook page advertises a Citizens for Liberty gun march in Pennsylvania. Yet another event is set for Salida, Colorado.
I can think of a lot of good ways to celebrate liberty. Intimidating my neighbors with my guns isn't one of them. A march of people brandishing weapons looks more like something that would happen in the Third World than in the world's leading democracy.
However, these armed demonstrators crowding into restaurants and other public spots remind me of a place where such a show of force might have found better purpose. Display of weapons was not only allowed, but required.
During my last deployment with the Air National Guard, I arrived at Bagram Air Base in 2012 following a number of "green-on-blue" attacks: Afghan soldiers or police turning their weapons on Americans. Because of that threat, nearly every U.S. service member was required to carry a loaded weapon at all times.
Signs on the doors to the rec center, to the dining hall, and to just about every other building or tent read: STOP. DO YOU HAVE YOUR WEAPON? BE A FORCE MULTIPLIER!
It felt surreal to see soldiers and airmen off duty, kicking back and watching a movie, with M4 carbines on their shoulders or M9 pistols at their sides. Though they faced far more danger than anyone back home in the U.S., not one of them seemed as angry as some in the armed "patriot" movement.
Which begs a question for the folks toting assault rifles into the local coffee shop or Home Depot parking lot: Why are you defending liberty in a stateside coffee shop instead of where it counts, in a combat zone?
Some of these right-wing activists use words like "tyranny" and "oppression." But ever since 9/11, there's been plenty of call for people willing to fight true tyranny. During my two decades in the military, I visited countries where people had lived under such tyranny. They knew they'd been oppressed; they didn't need talk radio blowhards to tell them so. When you see real tyranny, it's unmistakable, and it looks nothing like the United States, the most free and prosperous nation on the planet.
There are those in the open carry movement who have spent time in the military, and I thank them for their service. But there are others who need to realize that bringing a Glock into Starbucks doesn't make you a freedom fighter.
So, if you want to carry a weapon and wear tactical clothing, here's an idea: Go see a recruiter. The weapons and cool clothes are free.
You might find serving a challenge, though. It'll take more commitment than shooting a few holes in a paper target whenever you feel like it. It'll take more time than slapping a "Don't Tread on Me" sticker on your windshield.
You'll take an oath to follow lawful orders and defend the Constitution. All of it, not just the parts you like.
And you won't get to intimidate other Americans; you might have to face real enemies.
Tom Young served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Air National Guard. He is the author of a series of military novels published by G.P. Putnam's Sons. His latest novel, Sand and Fire, will be released July 10, 2014.