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Media feeding frenzy over open carry guns in restaurants much ado about nothing

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December 7, 2013: Stephanie McDonald and James Franklin buy coffee while participating in an open carry demonstration in Texas (AP).

The NRA’s strong statement reprimanding a few people for carrying long guns into restaurants was bound to get media attention.  Bloomberg’s Moms Demand Action and much of the media quickly jumped in and described various restaurants as “asking customers to leave their guns at home.” But their assertions couldn’t be more misleading. 

The headline at USA Today saying “No Guns Inside” or at MSNBC and Huffington Post saying “No-Gun Policies” are simply wrong.

The question here isn't whether open carry deters crime. The question is what deters crime more: open or concealed carry. 

A big deal has been made of Starbucks, Jack in the Box, Chipotle, Wendy's, Applebee's, Chili’s and Sonic’s supposed bans on guns, with Bloomberg’s groups declaring “victory.”  

Yet, Starbucks “respectfully requesting” customers no longer bring in openly carried guns is not a ban on guns.  

Jack in the Box’s statement “we would prefer that guests not bring their guns inside our restaurant” refers to open carry.  Neither restaurant forbids customers from carrying concealed handguns and comments like “request” or “prefer” are a long ways from bans. 

Calls to all these restaurants revealed that none of them have changed their policy about posting any signs banning either generally banning guns or permitted concealed handguns. 

With 11 million concealed handgun permits in the United States, it is understandable why none of these businesses want to risk losing that many customers. 

From a general crime-deterrence perspective point of view, there are crime-fighting benefits from concealed carry over open carry. For example, as Israel has learned the hard way, simply putting more armed police and military on the streets failed to stop terrorist attacks. Even with openly armed police or military on a bus, a terrorist has the option to either wait for them to leave the scene or to kill them first. With potential victims having concealed handguns, the attacker doesn't know who is able to defend themselves or whom to attack first.

It is hard to ignore that with just two exceptions, at least since 1950, all the mass public shootings in the US have taken place where guns are banned.  The Santa Barbara shooter's "manifesto" made clear to anyone who still might doubt all the evidence, these attackers want to kill as many people as possible and try to avoid others with guns who can stop them.

Attacks on lone victims is similar. Having more people carry concealed generally yields more of an overall crime reducing effect than open carry because, under open-carry criminals leave the open carry person alone and wait for someone who is unarmed. Concealed carry yields a benefit for more than those who are armed.

The general drive for open carry is to make a political statement or to educate people about guns, but openly handling long guns in restaurants is not about safety.  

The question here isn't whether open carry deters crime. The question is what deters crime more: open or concealed carry. 

The only real victory that Bloomberg’s groups have achieved is banning off-duty police from carrying their guns with them at NFL games, something that they have done without incident as long as there have been football games.  Here well-trained police officers have been willing to protect people for free.

Not surprisingly, Shannon Watts, the president of Bloomberg’s Moms Demand Action, misinterprets the NRA concern.  “It was really noteworthy in it’s the first time they’ve come out and said we’re not sure you should carry guns everywhere,” she claims.  But Watts apparently doesn’t understand the distinction between open and concealed carry.

Despite Ms. Watts’ claim, the media frenzy is much about nothing. With millions of permit holders, the odds are high that in public you will continue to be near someone who can protect you.  And, as before, you will never even know it.

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.