Open And Concealed Carry Firearm Laws Increase Gun Violence

If you are planning to attend this week's Republican National Convention in Cleveland, please be sure to leave your tennis balls at home (1).

That's right, tennis balls are deemed too dangerous to be allowed into the 1.7-mile event space surrounding the RNC. Not only that, but you have to leave your air rifles, water guns, umbrella, shovels, glass bottles, light bulbs and hammers at home. But if you want to bring your fully loaded AR-15 assault rifle, please, feel free.

Welcome to Ohio, where like in the majority of states, it is legal for an individual to openly carry a loaded firearm in a public place without a permit (2). Welcome to Cleveland, home of the RNC, where the head the city's largest police union is concerned to a point where he asked Ohio Governor John Kasich to temporarily tighten the state's gun laws via executive action. Kasich claimed that he did not have the power to "arbitrarily suspend state or federal constitutional rights or state laws" (3).

Hard to believe that a Governor can't temporarily issue an order to protect the public, especially when it would prohibit military-style weapons being carried into large public events attended by Presidential candidates. But that is not the primary problem. The issue is that no prohibition exists in the first place. The issue is that a state refuses to act and prevent open carry making it difficult for law enforcement officers, whose job it is to protect their community. It undermines the ability for an officer to do their job, because how are they supposed to determine who is a "good person with a gun," and who is a criminal or terrorist with a gun? And as we know all too well, fear drives impulse decisions, and more guns result in more fear and more gun violence. This is abundantly clear when compared to states with common-sense gun violence prevention laws that restrict open and concealed firearm carry, that all have relatively low firearm fatality rates.

It is also legal to openly carry a firearm in Texas and Louisiana, where both states have recently seen tragedies affect their law enforcement officers. Texas law allows for open carry of rifles, but the display of a firearm in a public place in a "manner calculated to alarm" is prohibited (4). Objectively, a gun in a manner calculated to alarm seemingly means it is about to be used, and at that point hope of peaceful resolution is effectively lost. By this virtue, the open carry law represents inherent danger and subsequent violence, not protection.

The recent tragedies in Dallas and Baton Rouge highlight the misguided belief that open carry laws create a safer environment. At the Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, police officers were out-armed not only by a sniper with the intent to kill police, but also by protestors who came equipped with AR-15's and bulletproof vests (5). As the initial shots began, law enforcement wrongfully, but blamelessly, suspected them to be the perpetrators of the violence (5). In the end, credit is due to the Dallas Police department that there were not more casualties due to the confusion created by the public openly carrying firearms.

In Louisiana, the murder of three police officers magnifies the scope of trepidation caused by heightened racial tensions. Access to military style assault rifles and the ability to openly carry one, augments that scope and adds deadly consequences. Gavin Long, the gunman, bypassed civilians as he hunted down law enforcement officers in a targeted attack (6). Were police officers supposed to know beforehand that this was a bad guy with a gun whose sole intent was to kill them? Was the gunman holding his weapon in "a manner calculated to alarm"? Even still, this subjective measure of "prohibition" could be disregarded because it is not included in the Louisiana open carry law (7).

This brings us back to the divisive rhetoric surrounding the Republican National Convention and the consequent lowered sense of security and public safety. It is a scene where organizations like Citizens for Trump and Black Lives Matter have been marching and protesting simultaneously (3). A number of groups have explicitly announced their plans to exploit Cleveland's lenient gun laws and come armed with military-style assault rifles, because it is their right to do so in Ohio (8).

Dallas and Louisiana show the perils of this senseless law, now Cleveland and America are on edge because of it.

It is time to abolish the notion that the ability to openly carry a firearm makes our nation safer.