If you saw someone openly carrying a firearm in a public space, how would you react? It’s an important question every gun activist has to ask themselves at some point, because in regards to open carry, gun owners are often faced with a catch-22. For instance, where I live in California, the laws are very strict, but you can still openly carry an unloaded rifle or shotgun in public. But because it’s so rare to see, anyone who might try to do this is taking a huge risk.

Nobody is used to seeing an average citizen carry a gun, so most would be quick to call the police. Since the police don’t encounter this situation very often, they might assume the worst. That means walking down the street with a rifle over your shoulder, legal though it may be (depending on local laws), is a pretty easy way to get yourself shot.

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And there’s the catch-22. Since open carry is such a risky endeavor, very few people exercise this right, which in turn creates an atmosphere where most people are unfamiliar with the sight of an armed citizen, thus making it more dangerous for anyone who might want to open carry.

The message is clear. If you don’t exercise your rights, you don’t have them, and it does not require the intervention of politician to take them away.

And that appears to be the thought process Jim Cooley had, when he and his wife went to drop their daughter off at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, also known as the busiest airport in the world.

A man carrying a rifle inside the Atlanta airport wasn’t breaking any laws, but he did raise a few eyebrows, including those of some Atlanta police officers.

Jim Cooley says he carried his gun through the terminal when he and his wife went to drop his daughter off for her flight. He says he knew he wasn’t breaking any rules because he has a full understanding of Georgia’s gun laws.

“You can carry in unsecured areas of the airport. Past TSA, never,” Cooley said.

That’s exactly what he did. Cooley carried his AR-15 fully loaded with a 100-round drum through parts of the terminal.

As you might expect, Cooly’s action’s garnered the attention of several police officers in the airport.

Cooley says he was first approached by a fire marshal who asked him why he was carrying the gun in the airport. He was then approached by an APD officer, who asked him about the gun and whether he was permitted to carry the weapon.

“I told her I was carrying this for safety when she asked me why,” Cooley posted on Facebook.

Cooley says as he and his wife began to leave the airport the APD officer stopped him again and radioed to others that he was carrying an automatic weapon. Cooley says he was then followed to his car by a police lieutenant and two officers, who took pictures of their car.

“It shouldn’t matter what I carry, just that I choose to carry,” Cooley said. “You never know where something might happen.”

Obviously, carrying a rifle with a hundred round drum is a bit overkill, and a pistol would have probably been sufficient for protecting himself and his family. But then again, wouldn’t he have provoked the same response from the police, no matter what he was carrying? While the gun laws in Georgia allow him to do this, carrying a gun in an airport is a pretty taboo thing to do. Somehow I suspect that he would’ve been approached by the authorities in any case

And therein lies the Catch-22 I spoke of earlier. Part of me want’s to say that what he did was irresponsible, because it was guaranteed to scare numerous passengers, and put the police on edge. But on the other hand it’s his right, and if nobody has the guts to exercise that right, it ceases to exist. Nobody would be scared or alarmed by an armed citizen, if more of them took the time to push our cultural envelope.

And this applies to all rights, not just the Second Amendment. If you voiced a critical opinion of the government to somebody who had never heard a single criticism in his entire life, do you think he’d report you to the DHS?

If you lived in a society that had never known privacy, and you tried to protect yours, would your peers brand you a criminal?

If you tried to plead the fifth to a judge who had never read the Constitution, would he hold you in contempt?

This is the price we pay to live in a free society. People are going to step on each other’s toes. They’re going to scare and offend each other from time to time. But you know what’s worse than that? Living in a society that punishes people for the “crime” of making their peers nervous. A just society only punishes its citizens for actually hurting people, not for standing around and looking intimidating. And if everyone is too weak kneed to do something that might offend, then someday, they won’t be allowed to.

When Cooley was being interviewed by a journalist, he was asked “Yeah, you can do it under the law, but should you do it?” He replied “If you don’t exercise your rights, the government doesn’t have any hesitation taking them away.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger.

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