Sometimes being a state representative means having to pack heat in an airport.

Or, at least, that’s how we interpret it in Georgia. This summer, Republican state Rep. Tim Bearden decided that it was his responsibility to protect the newly defined individual right to bear arms — in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. In a startling show of testosterone, Bearden filed a lawsuit against the airport for its “illegal” gun ban and announced that he would be picking up family members from the busy airport the next day with his personal firearm in tow.

He backed down after the airport general manager said he would have him arrested. A month later, a federal judge upheld the ban.

After that showdown, I wondered if conspicuously gun-wielding politicians were the nation’s next big threat. But more than that, I wanted to know why. Why is it so important that Bearden be allowed to bring his gun into an airport when my travel-size shampoo is still subject to inspection? And more specifically, why is the right to bear arms in public so crucial to American gun enthusiasts that the concept of gun control drives them to do, well, crazy things?

Bearden’s protests were disturbingly short on reason. He spent most of his 15 minutes of infamy complaining about how his Second Amendment rights were being violated. Beyond clinging to a cliché concern for “protection,” though, he didn’t really explain why the average citizen needs a gun in an airport. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue commented that his wife would appreciate being able to protect herself on the long walk from the parking lot.

Follow-up question, governor: Why can’t your wife just assert her right to pepper spray and a security guard like the rest of us?

On Sunday afternoon, open-carry proponents gathered at an Ann Arbor park to draw attention to a cause Bearden would likely impose upon unsuspecting travelers — if it weren’t already illegal in Georgia. “Open carry” is the shorthand term for publicly carrying a gun in plain sight, a practice that varies in legality from state to state but is legal in Michigan. Unlike carrying a concealed weapon, it doesn’t require a permit, though it is restricted from certain public places. But if you’re under 21, open carry is the way to go, since you must be 21 or older to obtain a concealed pistol permit.

As I scoured coverage of the event and then the group’s website, I searched for the “why” and, again, came up short. About 25 people gathered, handguns holstered to their belts, and demonstrated the advantages of open carry: No one got hurt, and they got to prove that it’s possible to make a political statement and eat a hot dog at the same time. At this point, I’ve heard everything from needlepoint morals like “a right unexercised is a right lost” to self-defense, self-defense and more self-defense. I’m still not convinced.

Opinions on gun control aside, the argument that openly arming yourself in public increases your personal safety doesn’t make sense. While people may be less likely to mess with you if you’re armed, logically they will be more likely to use a gun when they do if they see you with one. I don’t think temper is one of those things they check when you apply for a permit to purchase a gun. And let’s face it, the idea of wearing a gun as a political statement is a little silly. Buy a button.

But at this point, I think that we gun control advocates are willing to make a generous compromise: Michigan open carry enthusiasts, you are more than welcome to wear your great equalizer to picnics. I can’t imagine that people will be clamoring to talk to you (especially in Ann Arbor), but that’s your prerogative.

However, we want something in return: permits. There is no justification for keeping open carry an unregulated practice when the state already requires a permit for concealed weapons. It would provide an extra background check, and requiring firearms training, which is already a necessary part of applying for a concealed weapons permit, would ensure that Michigan gun owners are capable of handling a firearm. It would also provide an incentive for them to become fully aware of their rights and the rights of their fellow (non-gun wielding) citizens.

Maybe then someone can give me a better answer about why average citizens should be allowed to carry guns in public than “because it’s a God-given right.”

Emmarie Huetteman is an associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at

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