The firearms debate in the United States often pits public health against freedom. This false dichotomy implies that gun laws, even wise ones, inherently erode individual liberty. Indeed, this appeal to liberty finds fertile ground in the United States, where many Americans intuitively reject any incursion on their freedom. Yet this one-sided conception of liberty is, at best, incomplete: while the government can certainly encroach on our freedom, so too can our fellow citizens.
A historically grounded conception of liberty in the United States includes the sense of security that fosters self-expression without fear of arbitrary constraint. That is, when citizens feel safe, they can properly exercise their will. But this tranquility doesn’t exist naturally. To achieve it, the government must exercise a monopoly of force and ensure that citizens do not fear other citizens. Only then can people act and express themselves without fear of reprisal.
Yet when civilians openly wield their guns in public, they impose an arbitrary constraint on others that represses others’ ability to exercise their will. Armed goers change the risk calculations for their fellow citizens—often forcing them to avoid areas where guns are present or arm themselves in self-defense. As this Note discusses, each of these options begets a compounding harm to our liberty. And the resulting proliferation of civilian defensive arms in the United States—the modern arms race—does not represent peace, only détente.
By this understanding, open carrying itself subverts liberty, and its regulation upholds it. Although an individual’s arms may constitute a productive solution to his own fear, the externalities on others are substantial. The state must prevent these costs to the liberty of others by regulating those wielding firearms in public spaces.