Over at PQED, there’s a post entitled “How should people respond to open-carry gun-rights activists?” The piece is definitely worth a read, and offers some excellent reflections on the quandary of how to interpret what, exactly, someone toting a long gun at the ready in a public space intends to do with it (a dilemma captured succinctly in this cartoon by Ruben Bolling).
But the advice the piece gives as to how to respond to Open Carry activists strikes me as deeply problematic. It reads:
“My proposal is as follows: we should all leave. Immediately. Leave the food on the table in the restaurant. Leave the groceries in the cart, in the aisle. Stop talking or engaging in the exchange. Just leave, unceremoniously, and fast. But here is the key part: don’t pay. Stopping to pay in the presence of a person with a gun means risking your and your loved ones’ lives; money shouldn’t trump this. It doesn’t matter if you ate the meal. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just received food from the deli counter that can’t be resold. It doesn’t matter if you just got a haircut. Leave. If the business loses money, so be it. They can make the activists pay.”
Although the author states that this course of action “will protect people,” I think the opposite is the case. While settling your bill and leaving after telling a manager why you are doing so and then boycotting might be a good response, I do not think that actively fleeing a place of business without paying is prudent, especially if it has just been flooded by a group of armed people, some of whom may take it upon themselves to confront you, self-styled vigilante-fashion, for what they might perceive as an act of theft or robbery. After all, part of the very reason Open Carry activists patronize such establishments is because they claim their presence there stops crime – so why wouldn’t they try to stop you?
It’s especially worth stressing here, if court case outcomes are any indication, that in many states with Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws – all twenty-three of them – someone can arguably shoot you dead for stealing from someone else – even if that someone else isn’t present at the time and you yourself are unarmed. Don’t believe me? Here’s audio of 61-year old retiree Joe Horn of Texas shooting two men in cold blood from across his lawn because he saw them burglarizing his neighbor’s home. As Horn told the operator at the time, “I have a right to protect myself too, sir. The laws have been changed in this country since September the first, and you know it.” A grand jury declined to indict Horn. Also, please bear in mind that per SYG you can, in some states, be pursued and killed even after you leave the scene – and your killer can apparently do so with impunity.
As I’ve argued elsewhere, Open Carry protestors are emboldened by a particular and deeply troubling relationship of entitlement when it comes to imbuing public space with the implicit (or often not-so-implicit) threat of violence. So, yeah, don’t dine and dash or run out of your barbershop without paying around people with guns. The possibility that someone who’s decided to walk into a restaurant or other business carrying an assault rifle at the ready might then follow you out and confront you if you flee after committing an act of theft – particularly if the already agitated staff or other patrons don’t know what you’re doing – isn’t implausible in the least. Confrontations like that tend to escalate quickly, particularly if you code as someone the armed person is already liable to find threatening in the first place (IE, if you’re non-white). The problem of other minds cuts both ways. And when the person who’s puzzling over your own intentions is already primed to perceive other people as likely to be as ready for violence as they themselves are, the fact that they may perceive you as threatening based upon factors ranging from the speed of your exit to the color of your skin, combined with the fact that they’re packing heat and may have the law, however misguided, behind them, means that you might just wind up dead for trying to prove a point. That’s one of the double binds of Open Carry guntrolling: for now at least, folks have a right to do it, and it can feel intolerable to be held hostage in your daily life by them, especially since if you stick around they’ll claim you support their behavior. But the presence of guns on the scene changes the calculus such that fleeing is possibly the worst idea. Instead, better to be vocal in your counterprotest, settle your bill, leave, boycott – and then pressure your legislators to change the law.