One of the evergreen arguments on gun forums is whether or not gun owners should choose to open carry their defensive handguns, or carry them concealed.

The broad strokes of the argument typically goes something like this.

Open Carry Proponent (OC): “Open carry prevents criminal activity because when criminals see that citizens are armed, they will decide to not carry out their crime at that time, and/or will find another person to victimize. Open carry gives you faster access to your firearm than concealed carry. Open carry helps non-gun owners get used to the idea that guns in public are not a bad thing. Open carry is more comfortable.”

Concealed Carry Proponent (CC): “Concealed carry prevents criminal activity because criminals don’t know who is armed. Properly trained concealed carriers with good equipment can get their concealed handgun into action almost as fast as open carriers. Concealed carry avoids making gun owners targets for criminals, law enforcement officers, or SWATers.”

One of the other things I’ve noticed on various forums and blogs discussing the topic is that the split appears to be one of both motives and tactics.

Many people who open carry cite a political motivation as much as a protection motivation for open carrying. They want to “assert their rights,” and ensure that people know that they have the right to open carry a handgun. They also tend to feel that a open-carried gun is as much a warning as walking a large dog, saying “do not mess with me.”

Those who concealed carry tend to care more about being discrete and avoiding drawing attention to the fact that they are armed, though their level of discretion varies greatly. There are concealed carriers who wear “tactical” clothing that all but screams “I’m carrying a gun!” to those “in the know,” and then there are those who make a concerted effort to completely blend in.

So which is “better?”

I don’t think there is a “one-size-fits-all” answer, but I do have some observations.

Open carry is the most comfortable form of carry for most people, and this is especially true for those people who cannot or will not spend the money to buy higher-quality holster designs and who eschew proper gun belts. A poor holster design made of inferior materials on a flimsy belt makes concealed carry absolute agony if done for any length of time. To achieve a degree of comfort with a concealed carry rig, you’re going to need to spend time and money trying out different combinations until you find something that suits you.

Of course, we’re merely talking physical comfort. Psychological comfort is another story entirely, and that level of comfort is at least partially situational in nature.

If I am in the great outdoors where I am not likely to run into many people, I’m more comfortable with open carrying than I would otherwise be.

If I am in a typical suburban or urban crowd of any kind, I would prefer to carry concealed. Human beings cannot have situational awareness 100% of the time in 360 degrees. You will not see everyone, 100% of the time. It simply isn’t possible. You are human, and you have many other things on your mind in the course of an average day.

Because I know that I am human and I cannot watch everyone else at all times, the more crowded an area is likely to be, the more likely I am to opt to carry my handgun in a position where it is least likely to be accidentally seen or bumped up against, and where I will have the best control of it in the unlikely event of an attempted takeaway. For me, this means concealed, in an AIWB holster.

Unfortunately, scenes like this one from the line at an Indiana Cabela’s this weekend are all too common.

This Indiana open carrier sported a Springfield Armory XD in a Serpa holster. For reason unknown, his spare magazine is carried behind the holster, making reloads… interesting. Tamara Keel snapped the photos, and notes that the man in question was “depressingly unaware of his surroundings.”

Sadly, there are a number of people who choose to carry a firearm for self defense with very little training, who tend to treat firearms as a talisman that will ward off evil by merely possessing it.

The blissfully unaware man in the photo above is apparently such a person.

He clearly has very little experience with firearms and none with reloading his pistol. If he did—so much as once—he’d know that placing his spare magazine behind his holster makes it all but impossible to access with his support-side hand. He’s also trusting a Serpa, with its cheap construction and an easily-defeated trigger guard locking mechanism, to make up for his lack of awareness.

There’s a very strong argument to be made that this open carrier is more of a target than anything else, like the man robbed of his gun in Philadelphia recently in similar circumstances. You’ll note that the gun robbery victim in the linked story was (sort of) concealed carrying.

John Johnston of Ballistic Radio recently asked questions on Facebook to those who prefer to open carry:

Genuine question, and let’s all keep it civil.

Is anyone aware of any Open Carry advocates, i.e. a person who by choice carries a handgun day in and day out unconcealed, who has received any significant amount of training? I’m not talking about people who are forced to carry that way due to sh*tty laws, or people who participate in planned open carry events. I’m talking about folks who could conceal a gun but choose not to and espouse it as the superior mode of carry.

If so, what are you guys considering significant training? Curious to hear answers, and let’s not turn this into a bash CC or OC thread. I’m just trying to better understand where people are coming from here.

John’s purpose was to facilitate an open discussion and learn why people chose open carry in a “judgement-free zone,” and the answers he received were instructive.

The vast majority of open carriers who responded do not have what they would consider as “significant training.”

Overwhelmingly, they either have no formal defensive firearms training from a professional instructor at all, or had only the minimal safety training required to obtain a concealed carry permit (which is required even of open carriers in some states). There were just a handful of people with self-defined “significant” defensive firearms training who chose open carry over defensive carry.

I’d note that the overwhelming majority of full-time defensive firearms instructors personally opt for concealed carry, as do the more serious defensive firearm students, some of whom rack up far in excess of 80 hours of defensive firearms training per year. These are people who have poured their time, money, energy, sweat, and sometimes blood into finding out what gives you the best odds of surviving a violent encounter, and they overwhelmingly opt for concealed carry for themselves.

Uniformed law enforcement officers are often required to open carry, and are equipped with both retention holsters and retention training to keep their handguns out of the hands of criminals. Still, even with specialized equipment and training, 8-percent of officers who were killed in the line of duty between 1994 and 2003 were killed with their own guns. When not on duty and out of uniform, most officers choose concealed carry.

You can choose to characterize this information as, “professionals carry concealed, and amateurs open carry,” but I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, as the goals of people for carrying vary widely.

If you live in a relatively safe community and open carry primarily as political statement of your rights, then that’s awesome. Keep doing that if that makes you happy.

If you live in an area where violent crime is a distinct threat, however, then I’d suggest that you may want to A) consider formal defensive handgun training, and B) ask your instructors why they choose to carry the way that they do.

Not everyone will do the calculus here and come up with the same answer.