Both killings occurred in “open carry” states where you are allowed to carry a gun that is visible to others in public: in a holster, strapped around your belt, your thigh, or on your shoulder, depending on the local regulations. In Louisiana, you don’t need a permit to open carry—although Sterling likely would have been banned from owning a weapon at all due to his criminal record. In Minnesota, you do need a permit, which Castile’s girlfriend says he had.

More than 30 US states allow open carry of a gun without a permit, only a handful of states prohibit it. Meanwhile “concealed carry,” where a gun is hidden from plain view, is in some form allowed in all 50 states. Proponents of open carry—a growing movement—say that it is a highly visible representation of their right to bear arms (which they like to demonstrate by carrying massive weapons), and an inextricable part of American culture.

Open carry laws put an additional strain on police departments, which have to respond to calls from citizens alarmed by the sight of a gun in public. What the laws also create is a situation ripe for discrimination, where police approach black men who open carry differently than gun owners who are white.

These confrontations between law enforcement black men who are carrying weapons—or are perceived to be carrying them—in places where open carry is fully permitted, can end up becoming deadly, as was the case with 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was playing with a toy gun and was shot by Cleveland police, or with John Crawford, who picked up an unwrapped BB-gun at an Ohio Walmart and was subsequently killed by law enforcement. 

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