So if it’s such a hassle, why open carry?
As we walk, the trio explains.
For Sam, 39, who works from home studying “history and behavioral economics independently and try[ing] to figure out what’s going to happen next before everyone else,” it’s mostly about constitutional freedom, a cause he says he’s felt strongly about since childhood. He’s been open carrying for about seven months and heard about it through Nate and Calguns.net, a popular online meeting place for California gun owners and enthusiasts.
“I really believe, and I think that most thinking people believe, that we are slowly losing our freedoms in this country,” he says. “Everything’s become more and more restricted, and nobody seems to know what to do about it. If we would just get back to following the Constitution, America would again be the place it was intended to be, the place where everybody wanted to come. This whole open-carry movement, for me, is really about more than just guns; it’s about liberty and what it means to be a free man.”
Nate, a 22-year-old human biology student, voices another issue: the lack of CCW (concealed-carry weapon) permit issuance. A concealed-weapon license allows one to have a concealed weapon on his or her person. In California, Nate says, concealed-weapon licenses are most commonly issued to lawyers, jewelers, and traveling doctors.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get a CCW permit. I’m not important enough — I don’t make enough money, I don’t have a good enough ‘cause,’ according to California — so I said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just start open carrying,’ ” he says. “Another reason I started doing it is that it’s a political statement. I’m not important enough for my right to self-defense, so what we do is we just take it out in the open. This is what we have to do.”
Nate has been open carrying for about a year and heard about it on Calguns.net.
“I just started doing it,” he says. “Read[ing] up, whatever I could do.”
Sean, a 32-year-old senior systems engineer, chimes in.
“I’ve always been somewhat of a gun-rights activist,” he says. “I’m really in it more for the activism more than anything else. I’ve noticed that a lot of the guys are younger, and the police seem to react differently to folks who are in their 30s than to folks that are in their 20s. So I feel it’s a good idea to keep the reactions moderated a little bit.”
Sean has been open carrying for about a year, he says, and is also an active member of Calguns.net.
Most of the response the trio has gotten while open carrying has been positive.
“On the 28th, I’d say about two-thirds of the contact we had was ‘Hey, that’s legal to do?’ ” Sean says, referencing an open-carry event held in San Diego in February. “Not accusatory or anti — either positive or just requesting information.”
“The people who were blue-collar guys or office workers or whatever, they’re more curious about stuff like this than people who are just out there on the beach all day because they don’t have an obligation to go be somewhere else. I think that’s probably the reason that there’s sort of a skew in the types of contact we’ve had today.”
As we walk and talk, a man in a red shirt passes us, his eyes obstructed by wraparound shades. He turns around to face us.
“You walking around with live ammo in those?” he asks, walking backward.
“Not with live ammo in them,” Sean replies amicably.
“Do you have a permit for that?” the man asks.
“You don’t need one,” says Sean.
“I’ll find out down here for you, ’kay?” the man asks, somewhat rhetorically, as he hightails it down the boardwalk.
“It’s not Mexico, guys, you can’t pull that shit off,” he shouts, over his shoulder.
“Do you really think that guy is going to go to the cops?” I ask, once I’m sure he’s out of earshot.
“Probably,” says Sam. “And the cops will say, ‘It’s legal. You don’t have to like it, but it’s legal.’ ”
Turning back, walking into the sun, we decide it’s time for food and continue — undisturbed — to Mission Boulevard, where there’s a small Mexican restaurant with outdoor seating.
San Diego open carriers, I discover, have had a few open-carry events here in town, coordinated mostly via sites such as Calguns.net, OpenCarry.org, and CaliforniaOpenCarry.org, where there are local forums in which members discuss issues of gun ownership, gun rights, gun laws, and more.
The last meet, at the time of this writing, was in February and took place on the very boardwalk Nate, Sean, Sam, and I just traversed. The police were well informed, and things went smoothly as an estimated 40 to 50 people, open carriers and supporters alike, congregated beachside.
At the Mexican restaurant, lunch proceeds normally, save for a few stares, until I notice a large white-and-black SUV pull up in front of us. “Uh-oh,” I think. “Here we go.”
A male cop emerges, a tall man with a salt-and-pepper crew cut. He smiles at us.
“Howdy, folks. How’re you all doing today?” he asks.
“Fine,” everybody responds.
“I’m going to have to do a 12031(e) inspection on you and get out of your hair,” the cop says.
“Are you requesting or demanding?” Nate asks.
“I’m sorry?” asks the cop.
“Are you requesting or demanding?” Nate repeats.
The cop looks at him.
“Well, I’ll start with a request, but then I’ll demand,” he replies.
“As long as you’re demanding,” says Nate.
The cop starts with Sean.
He has him face the opposite direction and goes around behind him, removing Sean’s gun. He checks for ammunition and, finding none, places the gun back in its holster.
The cop makes his way around the table. Each of the trio stands and, when asked to be checked, pipes up with “Requesting or demanding?”
When the cop gets to me, I gulp, even though I know my line.