A Washington State open carrier was attacked recently in the sport goods section of a Wal-Mart, allegedly because he was open carrying. As covered in articles by the Yakima Herald Republic here and here, the details follow in brief. Interestingly, the original story states the weapon was concealed (probably poor journalism and assumption rather than anything else).
A father, Brandon Walker, a concealed carry permittee, was shopping with his children, purchasing a new batting helmet for his son, when he encountered a disheveled man, Trevor Zumwalt, come into the aisle and approached him. The man eye contact with the citizen carrier several times. Zumwalt then drew a baseball bat from the rack and raised it to a swinging position. Walker realized this was an attack, so he stepped into the swing to lessen the force of the impact and turned his shoulder to take the hit from the bat. Needless to say, a baseball bat strike to the head would probably have been incapacitating, if not fatal.
Walker was carrying a Sig Sauer P226, a double-action pistol, with an unloaded chamber. After the initial swing, Walker drew his pistol, racked the slide, aimed it at Zumwalt, and ordered Zumwalt to the ground. Zumwalt complied. Walker had a Wal-Mart manager call the police, who arrived and arrested Zumwalt, who is now facing felony assault charges.
In an interview with Bearingarms.com, Walker spoke about his carrying habits.
“The other take-away from this situation is that he may have made a mistake in not opting to grab his jacket out of the trunk of his car, which he normally wears and would have concealed his handgun.”
Open carry is not a mistake. It a personal choice of a method of carry. Open carry does entail safety precautions, number one being situation awareness, which is what allowed Mr. Walker to live that day. Walker saw Zumwalt, took notice of his appearance and behavior, then was able to anticipate that Zumwalt’s ‘practice swing’ was an attack. Being equally observant is required to prevent a potential gun snatch, not just an attack.
The assumption being made in this article and in the open/concealed carry community (as well as in the broader gun debate) is whether or not open carry made Walker a target. Without a statement from Zumwalt, we will never know. From what Bearing Arms has reported, Zumwalt may be mentally ill. He may have chosen Walker for any reason. Walker himself was the one who speculated that Zumwalt targeted him to snatch his gun, which would only seem to make sense if Zumwalt were mentally ill and deranged enough to think a bat attack against a gun-armed victim would work.
A rhetorical question: What if Zumwalt attacked a reason other than his gun?
“From now on, Mr. Walker will carry concealed, and already has just the sidearm picked out for the summer months ahead. The only time he’ll open carry from now on is at the range.”
That’s Mr. Walker’s personal choice. Given the circumstances, I doubt anyone can fault him. Yet his experience is not the one experience which disproves the rule that open carry is safe, nor is it part of an epidemic of attacks against open carriers. The debate among open carrier and concealed carriers is deterrence versus surprise. Among the arguments for both method of carry, open carry proponents state that open carry allows for criminals to be deterred by the sight of an armed potential victim, while concealed carry proponents prefer the element of surprise.
Concealed carry proponents and instructors often take this too far as to say that open carry is dangerous, that it provokes attacks (usually to steal the firearm) and would make the open carrier the criminal or terrorists first target. There is no body of evidence, aside from the very few, nuanced stories like these, to prove that open carriers are attacked for or because of their guns. The issue can become quite contentious.
Open carry and concealed carry have their own unique advantages and disadvantages; neither method is superior to the other.
Concealed carry is not a cure-all for avoiding firearm-based attacks from occurring. For all but the slim in proper clothing and with well-fitted holsters, concealed weapons often produce a tell-tale bulge under the clothing, using the back right side of the body, and concealed guns often ‘print’ their outlines through clothing. In fact, a Florida concealed carrier was attacked in a Wal-Mart when someone saw him holster up in the parking lot. In less obvious cases, trained eyes know what to look for when looking for a concealed weapon.
We are still waiting for an actual, confirmed story where there is no doubt about the attacker's intent to either kill, injure, or disarm an open carrier.
The mistake made by Walker was the fact he carried his pistol in Condition Three (also called Israeli Carry), where there was no round in the chamber, requiring him to rack the slide before acquiring his target. While some states like Utah mandate this for unlicensed open carriers, Washington does not, and Walker was a licensed concealed carrier.
The act of having to draw the weapon and chamber a round takes time. For a well-practiced shooter who is comfortable with his firearm, this procedure may seem like one fluid movement. Unfortunately, many who are new to carrying firearms for self-defense feel uncomfortable with a ‘loaded’ firearm and choose to carry this way. Someone who is so afraid of their weapon ‘accidentally’ going off will likely have trouble drawing and acquiring their target in a life-threatening situation and accordingly may well forget to chamber the first round. Having only a few seconds to react to a violent attack is not the time to fumble with a gun, especially if one is not well-practiced with it.
In Walker’s case, had the attack continued, he may have had to fend off the bat while trying to rack his pistol’s slide, which requires both hands. Imagine if that first blow to his shoulder had broken his non-shooting hand. How would he chamber a round then? What if he was struck in the head and disoriented? Dazed and on the verge of consciousness, would he remember or even have the ability (mental or physical) to perform that vital action before taking aim? Situation awareness and knowledge of his gun saved Walker’s life.
Anyone who does not feel comfortable carrying a round in the chamber of their pistol should undergo more instructor-led shooting training and learn the mechanics of modern firearms. The vast majority of quality guns produced within the last 30 years or so, if built and maintained properly, will not fire unless the trigger is actually pulled. The best practice is trigger discipline and keeping the index finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until it is time to shoot, laying it along the frame of the weapon. Practicing this time and time again will make it muscle memory and natural under stress. If none of these techniques can convince someone to stop Condition Three carry, that person ought not to carry at all.
This story is not a reason to stop open carrying or to be afraid of it. It’s a success story actually, about a man who saved his life and that of his children by being aware of his surroundings and not freezing under threat. Situational awareness is the most important self-defense measure anyone, armed or not, can take.