MIKE PESCA, host:
Is that a gun in your pocket, or you're just happy to see me? Oh wait, it's a gun out of your pocket, and some people are unhappy to see it. Gun advocates who favor open-carry say that wearing guns out in the open is not only a show of ownership, it's an assertion of constitutional rights. And it's a great conversation starter. John Pierce is a gun right advocate. He's the leader of - one of the leaders of the open-carry movement. He founded opencarry.org, a gathering point for open-carry supporters. He's on the line with us from his home in Virginia where he may have a pistol on his hip right now, who knows? Hello, John, how are you?
Mr. JOHN PIERCE (Founder, opencarry.org): Hi, Mike, how are you?
PESCA: I'm well. You compare - this was interesting, I thought. You compare the open-carry movement to the gay rights movement. Other than the fact that the Village People had a cowboy, I don't see a huge overlap between the two movements. Tell me what you see.
Mr. PIERCE: Well, one of the reasons that we make that comparison is that open-carry is really gun ownership coming out of the closet. And there are a number of other comparisons that I think work really well, also. And that is that - let's look at the Seattle Mariners event that occurred a little over a month ago. I'm sure most of your listeners will still remember that. There was a lesbian couple who was attending a Seattle Mariners game, and they were displaying affection with one another, and they were asked to leave.
And the Mariners basically said that we're not infringing on your civil rights. You're free to be here at the ballpark, but you cannot display affection or any display of who you are. And obviously, the gay and lesbian community became very upset with that. And their statement is, if we are not free to be who we are and display that in a reasonable fashion in public, then we are really not free to be there. And that is an infringement on our civil rights.
PESCA: So you're saying, we're here, we're armed, get used to it.
Mr. PIERCE: To a large extent, and let me make it perfectly clear. That particular statement sounds a little bit in-your-face.
Mr. PIERCE: We do not want to be confrontational. What we want to do is combat the stereotypes that many people have about gun ownership. I can't tell you how many times I have encountered someone and they tell me, you know, I might think differently about guns. I don't anyone that owns a gun. Well, that's obviously wrong. A vast majority of American households have guns in them. But people, because we've allowed this social stigma of guns somehow being unwholesome to be perpetuated, people tend to treat them as something that has to be kept out of sight.
If every person out there who was a gun owner made it very clear to their friends, their neighbors, and people that they met every day that gun ownership is a wholesome and responsible activity, we would see many of the negative stereotypes go away. What we really have in this country is not a gun problem. We have a gang and drug problem, where they happen to use firearms in their bids to control each other's territory...
PESCA: Well, I don't know...
Mr. PIERCE: That's not the same as law abiding gun owners being a problem.
PESCA: I don't know that if the word "wholesome" is what an opponent comes to mind. I think it's more a safety issue. So, when you carry your gun openly in the holster, is the holster, you know, double locked? What safety steps do you take?
Mr. PIERCE: Well, obviously, when you are open-carrying a firearm, being able to retain that firearm - excuse me - is one your primary concerns, and most people who open-carry carry in some form of a retention holster. There is a variety of them that are sold. Some have straps that go across the top of the firearm. Others have a locking nub that goes on the side of the firearm. But yes, that is a very important aspect of open-carry, and people take that seriously.
PESCA: There is an argument for the concealed-carry laws, which are growing in popularity. And one of the arguments is if the criminals don't know who's armed, it might stop crime. What does open-carry do to that argument?
Mr. PIERCE: Well, first of all, the argument that if the criminals don't know who is armed then they'll treat everyone more respectfully is a valid argument, and I'm not disputing that at all, but that's in the general. In the more specific, open-carry deters crime in your particular instance, and I have a great example of that.
One of our members here in Virginia earlier this year went to his bank. He open-carried as he does every day when he makes his deposit. The bank personnel are very familiar with him. He was standing there speaking with the teller, chatting a little bit after making his deposit when suddenly the teller's eyes go wide. She looks past him and ducks a little bit. He turns around, doesn't see anything, asks her what's wrong. Turns out a man with a ski mask had ran through the door, saw the gun on his hip, and turned, and fled back out the door. He had stopped a robbery without even having seen the man.
PESCA: What kind of reactions do you get when you wear your gun? Do people come up to you - well, I'm sure you have supporters saying good job, but what about everyone else?
Mr. PIERCE: Primarily, the reaction that I get is a non-reaction. I was on the radio in Texas last Friday as I was traveling across the country on business, and I actually conducted the interview from a Starbucks just outside Philadelphia. And sitting there, no one said a word. Everywhere around me were people drinking their lattes and children. No one ever says anything.
PESCA: What about law enforcement? When they roll up to you and say, sir, what are you doing with that gun? What's that interaction like?
Mr. PIERCE: I have never had any really interesting law enforcement encounters. We do have members on our forum - and might I ask if I can mention our website again? It's www.opencarry.org. But some of our members have had law enforcement encounters. The vast majority of them are positive. Some of them do tend to go into negative areas, and that's usually where we then become involved and try and work to improve the understanding of law enforcement in that area.
PESCA: Well, I read on your site that what usually happens is there is, you know, a half-hour interaction, and the person with the gun explains that it's in his right, and you know, I usually find that cops don't like the law being explained to them. And I also would imagine, I'm not black, but let's say you are a black guy in the South, with, you know, exercising his constitutional rights. You've got a gun in a holster and then a cop rolls up to you and says, what are you doing with that? It could be a nightmarish-type encounter. Has that ever come up?
Mr. PIERCE: Well, the nightmarish is really such a broad term. I don't believe in the way that you're using the word, nightmarish. However, if - I don't know if you or any of your listeners were able to see the "Nightline" piece they did last Wednesday night. If not, it's available on the main page at opencarry.org, but one of our members in Virginia, a gentleman by the name of Dan Moore, had that very experience.
He's a very active young black man who openly carries, and his experiences with law enforcement have been more, shall we say, energetic than those of us who are white. And so, I do believe there is some of that that comes into play, especially if the person in question lives in a neighborhood where law enforcement activities are more pronounced than they are in others.
PESCA: We do have to leave it there, but I want to thank you and, we mentioned the site a few times. It's opencarry.org. You are John Pierce, gun rights activist. Thanks very much, John.
Mr. PIERCE: Thank you, Mike.
PESCA: OK. Coming up, Current TV's Sarah Haskins. We'll talk about the presidential candidates' efforts to woo the ladies, and the latest GMAT shooting scandal, all on the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.