Against the Open Carry Macho Flash

For those unfamiliar with the “libertarian macho flash,” it’s a term coined by Michael Cloud for depicting the most extreme examples of libertarian principles without acknowledging the concern of skeptics.

When asked if people living in a libertarian society would hypothetically be free to buy heroin from the corner grocer, rather than emphasizing that drug prohibition exacerbates the problems of drug abuse or that treatment is superior to prison, a libertarian macho flasher would foremost defend the rights of drug pushers without addressing the concerns for people’s well-being.

The effect isn’t to instruct, but to jar. When I learn of groups open carrying their long guns along streets or on highway overpasses, I can’t help but think they’re doing more to alarm than to educate. It’s attention-getting. I understand. But it neglects to consider the views — the fears and the concerns — of the people who are the focus of the education outreach, making open carry supporters seem callous. It’s shock therapy.

In response to the notion that flagrantly open carrying hurts the cause of gun freedom, C.J. Grisham of Open Carry Texas is quoted as saying “That’s like saying if you want to fight for free speech, shut up.”

I think his simile is a bit off. It would be more like supporters of the First Amendment using vulgar language to apprise people of their right to free speech. Maybe over-saturating public spaces with offensive words would desensitize people, but that would be little compensation for the harm it would do in diluting support for free speech. It’s a judgement call, but maybe some tact is in order.

Before speaking we should ask, said Cloud, “What are you trying to accomplish? How do you plan to do it? Will your plan promote your goals?”

That doesn’t mean people should compromise their principles or even that open carrying doesn’t have its place. Some suggestions would be to have meaningful dialogue with opponents of open carry and make yourself a value to others (for example, by adopting a stretch of highway or a park for liter pick-up while armed or by sponsoring gun safety and self-defense classes). The goal isn’t always to convert opponents as much as it is to make your views seem sensible to uncommitted observers.