Yesterday I went to the local grocery store. Nothing unusual about that. But as I'm standing in the checkout line, I notice that the man in front of me is openly wearing a large revolver (looked like a Colt, but I didn't ask) on his side. Which is perfectly legal here in Arizona. But is it sensible? I mean, this is Flagstaff, the epitome of "safe". And the guy with the sidearm appeared to be young, solid, and healthy (and very white, not that it matters); not a likely victim of violence.
"Open Carry" laws have been getting a little more notice lately, with NRA members wearing their guns into Starbucks, and 'Tea Party Patriots' taking their sidearms to political rallies. There are many 2nd amendment advocates circulating the (baseless) paranoia that Obama wants to 'take their guns away', leading to a boom in gun sales.
I find that I have mixed feelings about "Open Carry" in action. I'm a gun owner myself, but I have no inclination to carry my pistol around in public. I don't feel threatened in my life, but I could see how that could change if it became common that almost everyone around me were openly armed. Put simply, for self-defense I'm used to relying on my physical size and ugliness, and the fact that I live in a low crime city. I become more nervous about the uncertainty of the mental stability of someone if I see that they are armed, especially when there's no logical reason for them to be. Heinlien's old adage that "an armed society is a polite society" neglects to point out that it is also a very nervous society. The more armed people around, the more likely that one of those armed people is unstable. That is what I'm uncomfortable with.
I grew up with guns around, and was taught strict gun safety. Only carry a gun if you're planning on using it, and only point it at something you intend to shoot. Those rules work fine for hunting and target practice. I'm assuming that the people who carry guns in public feel that they "might need it" for self defense, no matter how incredibly unlikely that is. Hell, the gun is the most likely thing to be stolen from them.
I realize that there could be individual situations that leave a person feeling threatened, such as domestic violence issues. For all I know, the shopper in front of me might be worried that his lover's husband was after him. But I'm not convinced that this is the common motivation. Fear is frequently an irrational emotion. There's a very real difference between a specific threat and a vague unspecific (and usually unreal) threat. It would be nice to be able to ask each person carrying a gun what exactly they are defending themselves against, because I doubt that it's a 'specific' for most of them.
Again, I find that my feeling are mixed: I do believe in the right to keep and bear arms, but I have doubts about the sensibility of guns in mainstream public life. I may be wrong, but it strikes me that more weapons make violence more likely, not less.
And totally aside: the gentleman at the grocery store was buying about a dozen boxes of "pop tarts" and a head of celery. I shouldn't question another person's dietary choices, but really?