Why insist on carrying guns publicly, as so many are?
Does wielding a pistol in a safe public place (far from rattlesnakes and other wild animals) gives its owner a feeling of extra security? Perhaps there’s a feeling that it’s needed in case of a physical threat. On the other hand, absent any real threat it brands the carrier a coward and a weakling. It displays, for all to see, an unreasonable fear of others: the paranoid’s fear of the crowd and of ordinary people.
Or maybe someone carries a gun to show off his country roots. He keeps a tool of the country, or the woods, close at hand or on display—maybe he thinks he looks like a cowboy from the movies. Instead, he looks out of place, like he doesn’t understand the proper place for tools and insists on carting around an unnecessary one. He may as well use a pitchfork as a walking stick, carry an axe over his shoulder, or keep his fencing tools jangling on his belt. (In fact the axe might be more effective.)
But the bearer usually knows this. The point of private citizens carrying an offensive weapon in a public place is most often simply to appear threatening, to offend people, and to make a statement. The point, frankly, is often to anger anyone that might want to limit gun use. Reading bulletin boards about open-carry laws reinforce this impression— most posters sound like they simply want to “exercise their right” and to display their political allegiances in the most threatening way possible.
It’s fairly easy to understand how instilling fear in strangers would make someone feel powerful. We men tend to subconsciously rise up straight, puff out our chests and set our jaw straight when other men size us up or get too close. Or we look away, moving on, when it’s clear we can be overpowered. The gun on display lets us be the one who doesn’t look away, the one who would win that fight, and it does so without us needing to move— we just need to show off our piece. It feels like a quiet strength, like respect, but it isn’t.
Because the price of that power, socially, is that we have to show our paranoia and our deep-seated fear to have it. Carrying the gun creates the equivalent of the insane talker on the subway: others look away, slink on by, no one wants a confrontation, because this person is obviously unpredictable and has no need or understanding of the natural equations of power and risk.