This author is not in the habit of imposing his opinions on others, but I have a hard time justifying the open carry of a handgun for a civilian if concealed carry is legally permissible in the environment. Yes, you should have the right to open carry. You should also have the right to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, but the health ramifications of either decision are likely adverse. While the United States has, overall, become more concealed carry friendly, I would argue that the utility of open carry has diminished by the day. While you have the right to open carry in many locations, it is rarely a sound decision. Consider the following:
Opposition to open carry among concealed carry devotees lies mostly in the tactical limitations of the practice, but we should start by acknowledging that the environment makes a great difference. Certain environments are, obviously, far more permissive of open carry than others. Rural communities often have a citizenry that thinks nothing of an openly carried pistol. In my youth, I lived in such a place, and it was common to see men with openly carried guns in and around town. Surveying crews, farmers, etc., would often come to town and enter the local eateries while wearing their openly carried guns. In such a place, nobody cares.
It is arguable that open carry suits certain occupations better than concealed carry. One may argue that a professional who works in such vigorous outdoor activities may find it difficult to conceal the gun, especially in warm weather. An open belt holster on the hip is far more comfortable for most than a deeply concealed appendix holster, for example, during labor in the field. Making the decision to open carry should, however, begin with environmental considerations rather than comfort considerations. Carrying an open pistol in urban or even suburban environments draws attention, and there have been many instances where that attention has led to trouble.
The Open Gun Becomes a Target
The greatest disadvantage of open carry is, obviously, the fact that the gun is visible to anyone else in the environment. Advocates of open carry argue that the visible gun deters criminal actors from committing crimes. There may be some merit to this argument, though it is impossible to quantify and is entirely theoretical. How can we gather such data to track how many criminals decided not to rob an establishment because they saw someone open carrying within? Is it possible that this happens? Sure. But this argument puts a lot of faith in a theoretical argument.
What is very tangible, however, are the incidents in which bad actors have attempted to disarm the open carrier, which has now happened on a number of well-publicized occasions. Firearms remain a primary attraction for criminal thieves, and stealing a gun remains a priority for many criminals, even if the gun is attached to your hip. There have been numerous disarm attempts made, some of which have been successful, in which criminals have taken an open carrier by surprise and disarmed them of their pistol. If you insist on open carry, you must use a holster with active retention built in so as to aid you in maintaining the gun during a disarm attempt. However, the best way to thwart a disarming attempt is to avoid it by concealed carry.
The Tactical Disadvantage
Not only does the open gun attract unwanted attention from criminals who might want to steal it right off your hip, but wearing the gun exposed lets other, potentially worse, criminal actors know that you are armed. It is not the least bit paranoid to consider the possibility that a violent criminal actor, intent on robbing or victimizing the vicinity where you currently stand, would shoot you in the back of the head to eliminate you immediately due to the threat you obviously pose with your exposed handgun on your hip. To wear the gun openly is to tip your hand as to your potential for resistance against violence, and you give away the greatest advantage of the handgun; concealment from view until it is needed.
Wearing a gun openly, even in the wilderness while hiking or hunting, still gives up the tremendous advantage you would have with the gun concealed. In my days as a young man, I had an incident while hunting in a location that was rather hostile toward outsiders. I ran into a fellow hunter who very directly threatened me for being where I was. I had a high-powered hunting rifle in my hand and an openly carried handgun on my hip. While I resolved the issue without violence, that was the last time I ever went into the woods with an openly carried pistol. Just because you have a rifle in hand does not make you invulnerable. What if that fellow had been a group of several fellows who approached in the guise of friendly hunters only to put you at gunpoint and disarm you? It has happened.
In such a circumstance, you would also be disarmed immediately of the visible handgun and left defenseless. However, having a concealed handgun would provide a tremendous advantage after you hand over the rifle to a momentarily distracted criminal who thinks they just disarmed you. The handgun makes up for its ballistic inferiority to the long gun with one immeasurable advantage; concealment and the element of surprise. If you wear the handgun openly, you lose this advantage, so you are simply carrying the ballistically inferior weapon that now offers no concealment advantage.
Even when hiking or hunting, I now always carry my gun in the appendix location, completely concealed and very fast to deploy. If you find such carry too uncomfortable during vigorous activity, consider carrying a small gun in a pocket. Personally, I would rather have a snub revolver in my pocket, hidden from view, than have a duty-size pistol visible on my hip, no matter what the circumstances are. This defensive weapon is just as important in the field as it is in any urban environment, so carry it in like fashion no matter what the circumstances. The concealed handgun is the primary defensive tool of the citizen in any environment, and the concealment aspect is the greatest advantage.
While open carry should remain a choice, and the free citizen should be allowed to do so, the knowledgeable self-defender should think long and hard about it.