The right to open carry doesn’t negate responsibility

The images of screaming, ranting protesters, some of them armed to the teeth as they raged in the Michigan state Capitol against the state’s COVID-19 lockdown order, was more than disturbing. It was frightening.

The guns, carried legally by people apparently beyond fed up with the hard-hit state’s lockdown, seemed unnecessary, carried as tools of intimidation and threat. Whatever the protest started out to be, it degenerated into bullying at its finest as the Michigan Legislature, just feet away, debated extending Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown.

Furious people. Guns. Close quarters. Cops. What possibly could have gone wrong?

Make no mistake. I am an all-in, dyed-in-the-wool, unrepentant gun-rights freak who believes to his core that if the Second Amendment is gutted, the rest of them will be little more than a sad joke. I was among those who fought hard for concealed carry in Alaska and helped eviscerate the ridiculous arguments against it. Gunfights at every fender-bender? Slaughter in our homes on Saturday nights? Liberal fantasies.

Also, count me among those who absolutely adore the AR-15 and AK-47 semi-automatic rifle platforms so loathed by the left. The AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America for a reason. Tens of millions of us lawfully use them for sporting purposes, hunting and defense, and they simply are among the most versatile firearms ever produced.

But should long guns of any kind be carried into volatile situations such as the Michigan Capitol protests by people wearing masks just to make a point? At the risk of irking friends — not only no, but hell no. Just because you can does not mean you should.

While the protesters had the absolute right to do what they did, they also had a responsibility to act as adults, to not inflame the situation. Attempting to intimidate elected officials with veiled threats of violence — and they were just that — simply is not what this nation is about. Their actions, which already have some — including Whitmer — demanding more restrictions, should embarrass us all.


There are two general schools of thought when it comes to carrying firearms. One advocates concealed carry, usually for revolvers and pistols. Out of sight, out of mind. Fewer hassles.

Proponents of the other method — open carry — point out that carrying handguns and long guns where everybody can see them is a constitutionally protected right; that the right must be exercised or lost. They are undeterred by arguments it can unnecessarily frighten passersby or intimidate gentle souls, and they are absolutely vehement when it comes to defending their rights. YouTube is rife with videos of these folks confronting cops and others to make their point. They are long on rights; short on good sense and responsibility.

Open carry, of course, can bring with it myriad problems. It provokes challenges by crazies and drunks and outright jerks. Cops see them all the time. “Oh, yeah! Whaddaya gonna do? Shoot me?” Then, what do you do? Open carry, especially in urban areas, given recent mass shootings, can only frighten the horses. When I see these folks in public places, I find myself watching them closely, asking myself: Good guy? Bad guy? Nut job?

But maybe that is just me. In my view, the best reason not to do it, and why I never would openly carry any kind of weapon in an urban environment, is that the guy or woman doing so in a restaurant or store is going to be the one shot first by armed robbers — or cops responding to the robbery.

Under the best circumstances, many among the uninitiated see open carry, especially of long guns in urban settings and during heated situations such as the Michigan Capitol protests, as threatening and intimidating. It turns off the very people we should be trying to reassure that gun owners are not a danger. At a time when our Second Amendment rights are under constant, relentless attack, do we really want masked, angry people using long guns to intimidate lawmakers? How smart is that?

Firearms owners are only one Supreme Court vote away from having their gun rights neutered and one election away from real disaster. Is it wise to present ourselves as bullies ready, willing, able — and champing at the bit — to cow government officials?

Despite the left’s worst depictions of them, gun owners in this country are among its most law-abiding, responsible and productive citizens. We are not a threat and we should be more than a little concerned about those among us who seem all too willing to display weapons for intimidation to make their point. They denigrate us all.

They are, indeed, long on rights; short on good sense and responsibility.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com, a division of Porcaro Communications.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is a former Associated Press reporter, managing editor of the Anchorage Times, an editor of the Voice of the Times and former editor of the Anchorage Daily Planet.