The NRA's Latest Defense of Open-Carry Laws Provides More Questions Than Answers


The news: The NRA has released a new video defending Americans' right to openly carry firearms in public. Starring controversial "news commentator" Billy A. Johnson, the video is supposed to answer a lot of critics unfounded attacks, but really just ends up leaving viewers with more questions than answers.

Johnson tells his audience there's been a "dust-up" in his community about a fellow citizen who has chosen to openly carry his firearm but doesn't go into any detail about the incident "because they honestly don't matter," which is probably your first red flag. What matters, he insists, is getting as many Americans as possible into immediate contact with firearms.

In the video, Johnson derides the public's opposition to a "law-abiding citizen exercising his right to open carry," urging them to see through the "irrational, media-fed, hysterical fear of guns." Johnson says they have an "obligation, a calling even, to demystify guns," to "introduce someone else to guns now. Not next year, now. Take a friend who has never shot a firearm to the range, bring a colleague to a gun show."

"Guns aren't scary, guns aren't cruel, guns aren't intimidating," Johnson continues. "... guns are just bits of plastic and metal."

Tony Gutierrez/AP

Let's take a closer look at some of Johnson's more "aggressive" comments:

No one's breaking the law, so why are you so upset? 

Maybe the anonymous firearms owner who Johnson is talking about (if he even exists) is following the exact letter of the law, but to some extent that's totally irrelevant. Plenty of things that are perfectly legal are distasteful, like being a racist

Johnson is facing criticism for choosing to exercise his rights in a manner others find aggressive and intimidating. Given the skyrocketing rate of mass shootings across the nation it's not surprising that his fellow citizens are a little jumpy.

Guns make you safer.

Johnson talks a lot about how incredibly safe guns are, but these tiny "bits of plastic and metal" kill countless Americans. Between the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre on Dec. 14, 2012 and the end of 2013, guns killed around 12,042 people in the country. 

Firearm ownership has been more or less proven to be a major health risk.

"Owning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicide, suicide and accidental death by gun," Mother Jones' Dave Gilson wrote. "For every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are seven assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts and four accidents involving guns in or around a home."

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Open-carry is just as safe.

Even the NRA has at times realized open-carry activists like the ones carrying AK-47s and AR-15s into restaurants and malls are doing more to freak out average Americans than promote firearm rights. In a since-retracted statement, the NRA called the practice of open-carry protesting "downright weird" and said the protesters had "crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness."

There's a reason people might be intimidated by open-carry activists: Carrying guns in public makes everyone less safe, including the gun-holder. Gilson notes that in 2011, "nearly 10 times more people were shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime." A Philadelphia study revealed that those carrying firearms were 4.5 times as likely to be the victims of an assault, while the odds of being killed were 4.2 times higher.

"We have dehumanized gun violence, and humanized guns."

Johnson is correct that humans are humans, and guns are guns. But guns help humans be human in different ways — aggressively and impulsively.

Guns escalate situations unnecessarily, and there's ample evidence to suggest intimidation by firearm is quite common. Access to a firearm triples the rate of gun suicides and doubles the risk of being murdered with a gun; this relationship is almost certainly causal. Gilson points to studies that indicate firearm-carrying drivers are are 44% more likely to use obscene gestures while driving and 77% more to aggressively follow other vehicles. Another found that concealed-handgun permit holders in Texas were 4.8 times more likely to have been found guilty of threatening someone with a firearm.

If murder has nothing to do with guns, then why has Australia's homicide rate dropped so quickly since it enacted a firearms ban in 1996?