Considerations Regarding the Concealed and Open Carry of Firearms

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Staff member
Aug 13, 2008
One of the most discussed subjects pertaining to the carrying of handguns is that of whether to carry openly or concealed. In some jurisdictions, citizens may carry openly, with or without a permit depending upon the laws. In many others, citizens may only carry concealed. When citizens have a choice, they have a decision to make, and the pros and cons of each may vary widely according to the environment, the purpose, and other considerations. It is a personal choice, and it should be an informed one.

This subject has sometimes become quite controversial, partly due to some recent, highly publicized events. However, the issues have been discussed here on THR in numerous threads over the past several years.

With help of some of the staff and other members, we have endeavored to summarize the salient points of the many discussions that have taken place on the subject over the last several years, and to present them in a balanced and objective way.

We will start with what should be the least controversial aspect of the subject.

Physical Considerations
  • Some handguns, such as large frame revolvers, long-barreled revolvers, and large semiautomatic pistols, do not lend themselves to concealed carry. A citizen with a need to carry such a firearm has little practical choice but to carry openly.
  • Concealed carry may be inconvenient, impractical, or difficult for motorcycle riders or equestrians, on tractors, or in other situations.
  • Some kinds of clothing, such as athletic and hot weather attire, make concealed carry difficult, uncomfortable, or impractical.

Then, there are points to be pondered about which method might prove best for effective self defense, and in what circumstances.


This part of the discussion pertains to the use of the handgun by citizens other than sworn officers or security personnel for the purpose of lawful self-defense.
  • A openly carried weapon usually takes less time to draw and present than a pistol that is carried concealed. Well-known trainer Rob Pincus sets the difference at about 0.3 seconds. Note that to unsling a rifle and load the chamber takes much longer than the time required to draw a pistol.
  • Another factor that is often discussed is that of deterrence--the likelihood that the sight of an openly carried firearm may deter a would-be mugger, robber, or thief. Although no objective data are (or can be made) available to substantiate it, subjective reasoning and common sense would suggest that, given the choice, criminals who notice the presence of open carriers in an establishment would tend to choose a different time or place for wrong doing. However, such deterrence is not absolute. Criminals can and do choose to rob convenience stores and other establishments in which the clerks or managers are known to be armed. Additionally, there is no way to deter an individual, such as a mass killer, who intends to die in the commission of a crime. And finally, violent criminal actors under the influence of mind-altering substances should not be expect to behave in a rational manner. The only effective prevention is the effective use of force.
  • Open carry can remove one element of flexibility from the defender in terms of his or her response options. Should a citizen be among persons suddenly surprised by one or more violent criminal actors, an open carrier who is noticed will likely have no choice but to try to act immediately, and will likely not be afforded the options of remaining uninvolved or of biding his time until a better opportunity to act presents itself, as would a person carrying concealed.
  • Because of its market value and its intrinsic value as a weapon, an openly carried firearm may serve as an attraction to those who would take the gun by force. Situational awareness can only partially mitigate that risk. The psychology of vigilance is well studied, and no one can maintain constant vigilance against threats from 360 degrees. While a properly designed retention holster and proper training can reduce the likelihood of a “gun grab” of the kind in which uniformed officers have been victimized, they cannot protect the carrier against injury from an unseen assailant with a blade or bludgeon.
  • On the other hand, while there are few or no readily available quantifiable, objective data to prove it, it would be reasonable to assume that, in one of the rare environments in which numerous persons carry openly, potential criminals would be much less inclined to risk trying to surprise and attack one open carrier in the presence of others. Elmer Keith mentioned that in Sixguns several decades ago when he discussed the carrying of guns in Helena, Idaho. Casual observations in Israel would also tend to support that hypothesis rather strongly.
  • However, deterrence is likely to be far less effective, and the vulnerability of the open carrier much higher, in an extremely crowded urban environment---visualize Michigan Avenue or Wacker Drive in Chicago when thousands of people are running for their trains. When an armed citizen is in an area in which large numbers of people move rapidly into and out of what is generally known as “Tueller Distance” all the time, no firearm, whether concealed or carried openly, would be of much immediate use as a defensive weapon, because there would not be anywhere near enough time to bring it into play in the event of a surprise attack by one or more violent criminal actors. In the case of an open carrier, it is likely that the gun would simply serve as an attraction.
  • The facts that police officers have had their guns taken and that many officers have in fact been shot with their own guns is noteworthy, but it is not entirely relevant to the question of open carry by others. Police officers do have the duty to pursue and apprehend criminals, and other citizens who do not are therefore not as highly exposed to that particular risk.

There are obviously a number of considerations to be taken into account by the citizen who has a choice. The list of “tactical” pros and cons of concealed vs. open carry will vary greatly according to the situation and the environment.

The reaction of other citizens to the sight of persons carrying firearms is also something that varies according to locale.

Legal, Political and Social Considerations

It is essential for everyone who has a firearm to understand the laws in his or her jurisdiction, or in any other jurisdiction in which he or she may travel, as they relate to the carrying of guns.

It is also important to keep in mind the facts that laws can and do change, and that such changes can be brought about by the influence of public opinion on elected legislators.

The laws that govern the carrying of firearms are enacted by elected legislatures. They have evolved over time, and they can be expected to continue to change. Even the Second Amendment itself is subject to amendment or elimination under the terms of Article V of the United States Constitution. That process too falls under the purview of elected legislators.

Although decades of screen fiction may give the impression that most everyone in the “Old West” carried one or two belted revolvers in town, the fact is that in many towns, local ordinances prohibited citizens from carrying firearms openly. Such prohibitions became much more widespread, and were extended to limit the unregulated possession of handguns and/or concealed carry, during Reconstruction in the Southern states and later in the Eastern states.

By the middle of the twentieth century, the lawful carrying of concealed handguns by ordinary citizens was severely restricted in most parts of the country. In 1986, there were only nine states in which law-abiding citizens were guaranteed the right to carry concealed, either with a permit or without. In twenty-five other states (classified as “may issue” jurisdictions), permits could be issued, but such issuance was subject to the discretion of law enforcement officials, and in many cases that meant that ordinary citizens without influence were effectively denied the right to carry. In sixteen states, concealed carry was prohibited altogether.

Things have changed markedly to the better in the last twenty-eight years. “May Issue” states are now a distinct minority, though ordinary citizens who live in many areas of those states actually have little realistic chance of getting a permit.

All but six states now have at least some provision for lawful open carry. Thirty of those do not require a permit (but some of those do prohibit having a loaded handgun in an automobile unless the carrier has a permit). Some states do allow counties and municipalities to restrict open carry.

It is very important to note that a legal right to carry a weapon does not give a citizen who is not a sworn officer the right to carry on private property, should the owner choose to prohibit the practice.

The important right to carry a firearm in public, and in particular on private property, is more fragile than many might like to believe. Laws can and do change, for the better and for the worse. Even the constitutional right to keep and bear arms is not graven in stone. Backlash against actions opposed by large numbers of the general populace can and has been troublesome. Responsible gun owners should keep that in mind and understand that large portions of the population do not necessarily agree with their positions.

Here are some pertinent considerations on this issue:
  • Social and political attitudes toward firearm ownership in general, and toward open carry in particular, vary widely among different sections of the country. In some areas, guns are a generally accepted part of life. In others, there is a prevailing general opinion among many people that firearms ownership should be limited to something loosely called “sporting purposes” . In still others, there is a strong undercurrent of anti-gun sentiment, so strong that even the innocuous pointing of a finger by a child is somehow believed to be connected to "gun violence". This difference is reflected in the varying attitudes among politicians.
  • Polls indicate that in some areas, a substantial number of people are uncomfortable in the presence of firearms, and that many prefer to not patronize businesses in which guns are carried. This has led some companies, including large corporations, to oppose the bringing of guns onto their premises, purely for business reasons. Whereas firearms carried concealed remain “out of sight and out of mind”, the sight of openly carried firearms has in some instances served as the stimulus to arouse controversy and negative reactions.
  • While it has been hypothesized that open carry will acclimatize people to the practice and result in higher acceptance of the idea, no objective experiments have been conducted to substantiate that thesis. On the other hand, negative reactions to open carry demonstrations have brought about both the enactment of state laws and local ordinances banning open carry and of decisions by businesses that had not previously done so to come out against and even prohibit the carry of firearms on their premises.

It is essential that gun owners take into account the sensitivities of others. Those “others” are voters, customers of businesses, and proprietors of businesses, and their opinions can matter a great deal to those who value the right to keep and bear arms.

One other thing: in some areas in which open carry is perfectly lawful, law enforcement officers who are not knowledgeable of the open carry laws are sometimes encountered. An encounter with one of those officers is not the time to get into an argument about the Second Amendment. The officer, however incorrect, should be treated courteously and with respect. The issue of rights can be dealt with later in a safe venue.

Empirical Data

While there are large areas of the country in which both concealed and open carry is lawful, the practice of either is really quite infrequent in most locales.

For that reason, and because there are so many other variables involved, there is no way to use actual data as a reliable basis either for prediction or for cause and effect analysis. As in any other area in which a paucity of experience exists, other methods mist be used to support the making of decisions.

There are, however, three data points that gun owners should probably take into account:
  • Limited data samples indicate that more than half of all violent criminal attacks involve more than one attacker. This is relevant to the discussion of how how to respond to a threatening situation, what to do after the first shots, when to re-holster, and whether it realistic to rely on situational awareness to prevent an attack.
  • Many self defense instructors, and that refers to instructors who address the larger field of self defense and not just the shooting of firearms, believe that in many if not most environments, open carry is not really very advisable.
  • Corrections officers report that it is quite common to observe prisoners practicing martial arts, including disarming, choke-holds, and the slashing of tendons, in the prison yards. Not every violent criminal actor is untrained.

One other factor that is really worth noting stands out: In spite of dire warnings to the contrary, the increase over the last several decades in the prevalence of the lawful carrying of firearms by citizens who are not sworn officers has failed to bring about the oft-predicted return to the proverbial “Wild West”. In fact, in jurisdictions in which records have been made public, the incidence of violent crimes (an important distinction) committed by permit holders is far lower than that of the general population. That is somewhat off-topic for the discussion at hand, but it may prove helpful in discussions with others.

In Summary

There is no “one size fits all” answer to the question of whether to carry a firearm openly or concealed. The “right” answer will depend upon many things, including local customs and prevailing opinion, purpose, attire, and environment, to cite a few things.

There are many persons in our society who oppose the carrying of guns by private citizens. There are ways to influence public opinion positively, and ways to bring about a negative result. Demonstrations do not always work to our advantage, and they can have and have had unintended consequences.

This post by JohnKSa addresses some important thoughts about how to go about influencing public opinion in a positive way.


The above represents a distillation of numerous contributions made by many of our members and our staff over the last several years. Frank Ettin, GEM, and JohnKSa have assisted in putting it together.

We hope that it proves useful.
subjective reasoning and common sense would suggest that, given the choice, criminals who notice the presence of open carriers in an establishment would tend to choose a different time or place for wrong doing.
Unless said criminal's intent is nothing more than to commit as many murders as possible, in which case subjective reasoning and common sense would suggest that, given the choice, said criminal will likely start that murderous spree by directing his attention to the open carrier.

Given that many civilians who choose to carry a firearm do so with the hope that they may someday prevent or reduce the loss of life in such a case (as opposed to finding oneself in the same scenario, but with no way to fight back), rather than merely preventing a robbery or mugging - especially due to some recent, highly publicized events - this ought to be brought to the forefront, rather than being stuck on the back burner where the reader may or may not draw this accurate conclusion on the matter.

Overall, a great summary of the two sides of this issue, and ought to be a sticky.
Oh, I think we should let at least a few people read it before we make it a sticky... :D

(Making something a sticky is apparently one of the best ways available to see to it that a thread is ignored...)
OK -- Then how about a "New Sticky" designation with flashing lights or something to get the readers attention? :rolleyes:
Another factor that is often discussed is that of deterrence--the likelihood that the sight of an openly carried firearm may deter a would-be mugger, robber, or thief. Although no objective data are (or can be made) available to substantiate it, subjective reasoning and common sense would suggest that, given the choice, criminals who notice the presence of open carriers in an establishment would tend to choose a different time or place for wrong doing. However, such deterrence is not absolute. Criminals can and do choose to rob convenience stores and other establishments in which the clerks or managers are known to be armed.
I think the potential payday is greater in an establishment, where there is a till and workers are told to give up the money without a fight, and let the cameras do their job, versus an individual, who may be carrying nothing, or a few bucks, and just crazy enough to not want to give that up. Therefore they take the chance that the ones that "may be armed" are simply not working.
Good summary. People tend to believe those things that reinforce their own views, but at least this ought to give everybody something to think about.
There isn't much I can add to that other than 40+ yrs. of OC-ing. I've had one incident several years ago in which a young thug type tried to take my holstered firearm from me, I won that one. But it could have very easily gone real bad, even deadly. But I've also run into a couple situations in which my visible firearm was clearly the deterrent that stopped things from escalating any further. So if I have anything to add to it it would be that one must be that much more aware of their surroundings when OC-ing, as we are a target of heightened interest by the bad guy when OC-ing.

IMO, OC should be a choice to made by the individual owner, certainly not a government or law enforcement entity.

If a robber or mass shooter just charges into an establishment, the OC weapon never had an opportunity to deter. Now it only makes the carrier a target if noticed. I have no statistics to back this, but i suspect that the majority of armed robberies occur in such a manner as its hard to walk in nonchalantly while wearing a disguise to conceal one's identity. If, on the other hand, a robber walks in normally, acting like any other patron, scopes the place out and then acts, the open carrier will likely be targeted long before he knows there is a threat. If an armed robber is there to commit such a felony, i don't think he'll have any qualms about taking the gun from an open carrier or worse. Possibly, if he mistakes the open carrier for a detective or other casual clothes LE, he may be deterred because he doesn't want to risk the elevated penalties for committing armed robbery, or murder, against a cop or worry others may be near.
But the OC-er firearm isn't always visible to the bad guy, that's a time and chance thing. For instance, if the OC-er is sitting at a table in a fast food restaurant, or standing at the back of the establishment, or facing the threat so that the view of the weapon is concealed by body mass. I've been involved in a couple of situations in which the bad guy didn't see my weapon for one of those reasons.

There are risks associated with either method of carry, there is just no getting around it 100%. All and all, the responsibility of remaining aware of who is entering our zone is the most important aspect of how we wear. I've had good and bad experiences resulting from both OC and CC.

But the bottom line is, it needs to be at our discretion, not that of a government / LE entity. No entity should have the power to dictate how we wear, no one.

Some handguns, such as large frame revolvers, long-barreled revolvers, and large semiautomatic pistols, do not lend themselves to concealed carry. A citizen with a need to carry such a firearm has little practical choice but to carry openly.

That's a generalization in my opinion that is not valid. What is considered a large frame semiautomatic pistol? As an example would a S&W-4506, Glock-G21 or a 1911 series pistols be considered large frame and non concealable?
Whoa. Can't believe I missed this thread.

In light of all the "Open Carry" stuff in the media lately (the majority of which is portrayed in a negative connotation), there is some really good information above.
I will as needed OC once Texas makes it legal mainly as a defense against having an aggressive govt agent hassle me about it. Plus as a short fat boy some things just don't conceal with out some major cash.:D
Interesting essay. There always seems to be a this-or-that exclusivity when it comes to the topic of open carry. One major advantage of open carry is indifferent carry.

Indifferent carry has two components:
1. I can carry concealed, transition to open carry, transition back to concealed carry whenever necessary or desired.
2. I am unconcerned with printing or bulges.

Number 1 is pretty self explanatory; I can transition to and from concealed carry as desired.
Number 2 opens a host of very clear advantages over what most people would call concealed carry; larger gun, serious caliber, greater comfort. Whenever someone posts or raises in a discussion how they are worried about their gun not concealed "enough" the first thing I think is that they're carrying illegally. The law does not require invisibility, and the general public isn't looking; so what's the worry?

In most states, legally a sidearm is no different than a hat on your head or a watch on your wrist, and that's the way I carry.
I just joined this forum, having left three other gun forums because of the nonsense there. This is a topic that is guaranteed to generate a lot of arguments, name calling and general bad behavior on those forums. I am so impressed at how civil this thread has been.

I am glad OC is legal. I think it should be legal everywhere. I OC occasionally, but not often. However, here are my reasons, that only apply to me, for my decision making only, why I don't choose to OC most of the time. Everyone else should do as they like and I support that. Also, all of the following is my perspective living in a suburban environment in a moderately gun-friendly state.
  1. OC scares some people. I choose to care about how people feel, no matter what their stance on guns. While I agree that OC'ing has some public education/desensitizing value, I think that is outweighed by its effect of mobilizing resistance to guns. I have seen more press decrying OC'ers than praising them or even admitting, "I saw an OC'er and there was no problem."
  2. I choose to think OC'ing makes one a target for gun stealers, SWATTERS and criminals to decide who to shoot first. I know there is not a lot of evidence about this either way, but thank heaven, there haven't been enough incidents around these issues to draw solid conclusions from stats or even anecdotes. So it's a judgment call for each carrier.
  3. I think what OC might gain someone in theoretical speed, I think is overshadowed by the loss of the element of surprise and the idea that retention holsters are often recommended for OC. Just one more thing that could go wrong. Also, analysis of hundreds of actual non-LEO gunfights linked below indicates that a lightning-quick draw is rarely a decisive factor in non-LEO SD situations. My view is that if I am in a situation where a split second on the draw saves my life, I have already screwed up big time in situational awareness.
Civilian Open Carry has its place. IMHO. it is while hunting in wilderness or possibly, while working outside on one's own farm/ranch. In today's world, populated as it is with an abundance of hoplophobes in positions of authority, carrying a firearm openly is really asking for trouble. All the 2A Rights chest pounding aside, carrying your sidearm concealed gives you many more options should you ever be caught in a bad situation. In many documented instances, a victim of a strong-arm or armed robbery who was carrying concealed has been able to turn the tables on his assailant when the moment to respond presented itself. In one case documented by the esteemed trainer, Tom Givens, one of his students was robbed at an ATM, then kidnapped and taken to his home for more loot. While one of the robbers was looking around the home for more stuff, the "victim" managed to distract the one holding him with more cash in a drawer and then drew and shot the robber. The other robber, thinking that his partner had just capped the witness, wandered back and got his just rewards. Does anyone think this would have been the result had the student been an adherent of Open Carry?

The element of surprise is always in your favor when you carry concealed and do not tell anyone except your spouse/girlfriend that you do, with the understanding that THEY never mention it to anyone outside the immediate household members. Carrying openly makes you the one liable to be surprised by an assault to take your gun away or as someone identified by criminals as the first to be shot. How many adherents of Open Carry are physically able - let alone trained, to repel a determined take-away attempt? How many are fast (and committed) enough to the practice of always being in Condition Yellow so as to be able to recognize/be cognizant of an imminent or approaching threat and out-draw someone with an already drawn weapon that is being trained on them?
Except for very rural or remote areas where it is not an issue, open carry is at it's best if there is a degree of saturation. In other words; if one in twenty, fifty or perhaps a hundred, in urban and metropolitan areas carry openly, open carry can work. If it is one in a thousand it is not going to have the same deterrent effect. Saturation is required both for security and general acceptance by de-sensitizing all others around them.

The problem with concealed carry is that it nearly always requires a permit - permission - hoops, time and money. Not everyone can afford the time and the money to do this over and above the cost of a budget handgun, holster, cleaning kit, and some ammo to practice with, and carry. Yet there are many open carry states with none of these hoops or the tax required. So if the "permit" - the hoops and tax are so important why have the open carry states (except Texas) not required them for open carry? The two exceptions I know of are Alaska and Vermont. Why all so-called "pro gun" states do not go to that permit free model is beyond me. Suzanne Gratia-Hupp tried to get a Vermont style bill passed in Texas and received no support whatsoever.
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The world and social norms change with time.
Actually, these get changed incrementally by focused political forces with an agenda; this is how all gun legislation in this country and others has been carried forward from day one. It does not happen by accident.

From a sheer practical and aesthetic point of view, open carry is most appropriate for the informally dressed, concealed carry for the formally dressed.
I am going to drop my two dollars worth in here (inflation, two cents seems low).

I totally, one hundred percent, without equivocation or lack of specificity support the RIGHT of people, who are otherwise able to own a gun, to open carry at their own discretion and choosing. Carry two Desert Eagles, and a mess of spare mags with a Model 29 snubby for a backup if that is what floats yer boat.

" keep and bear arms..." Literally, to own and carry guns.

Now, I put that up there because what I am going to put next is going wad up a bunch of man panties and cause a hole in the ozone and spotted owls to die.

Personally, I just don't believe that, outside of a narrow set of circumstances, that it is the smart way to carry.

Notice I didn't suggest that it should be regulated or the right limited by a "gub'ment" or any entity other than the person carrying it. I merely suggest that, especially in an urban environment, that it is not the smarter choice.

One poster mentioned 40+ years of open carry, and an attempted gun grab. Okay, I have been carrying for over thirty years...both as a cop and as a newly minted retired private citizen, and not one time in that time when I was carrying concealed....did I ever have an attempted gun grab. Not one. I never had to defend my gun against a gun grab when no one knew I was carrying and I carried any time I was out of the house. Period. I'd lay odds that the "thug" would never have tried a gun grab had the Roscoe been concealed.

The ONLY time I ever had an attempted gun grab was while serving in my capacity as an LEO when a tweaked out super strong giant of a man (compared to my own 6'4" and 240lbs at the time) tried to rip my duty gun from the holster and actually lifted me off the ground, and repeatedly slammed me back into the ground. I was carrying in a Safariland SSIII level 3 holster, so it didn't work out well for this giant problem child, especially once I got to my backup gun. But, I digress. One time. Once. Openly carried duty holster. Let that sink in. Level III retention holster, fully uniformed officer, and still this c.h.u.d. tried to take it. My retention skills are pretty freakin good, having extensive training in that, as well as using every dirty, nasty, mean trick up my sleeve to break parts of this guy's body...none of them worked until a 110gr 38JHP from my BUG stopped the argument over who was going to keep my gun. All the guy said was "Owe", held his side and dropped me like a sack of potatoes. Two weeks later, he was back on the street, tweaking and drinking at the local watering hole with a stent draining the puss and goop out of his wound. He died a few months later when he drunkenly stumbled into the street in front of a semi. I wouldn't lay odds more than fifty fifty in the semi's favor after having tangled with this guy.

As an aside, two weeks later I was still off work with four broken ribs.

How do you think any other holster in common usage as a carry holster today would hold off a gun grabber such as that?

I think of many, but not all so remain calm, of the most vociferous proponents of open carry to be "Look at me, I got a gun" types who are looking for attention or the opportunity to get on a soapbox and preach to anyone unlucky enough to be in ear shot. Especially if LE is called, so they can preach to them and waste the taxpayer's money when the officer could be elsewhere doing something productive like trying to stop bad people from doing bad things.

"But we're fighting for your rights!" -

Um, excuse me, but this is Arizona and Constitutional Carry is the law of the land. Can you tell me again exactly what right you're fighting for? The right to annoy those people around you who don't care if you have a gun or not and just want to drink their Starbuck's triple fat girl latte, wear skinny jeans, man buns, discuss crossfit, veganism, how much they hate God, Donald Trump, and love the Kardashians? Wait...go ahead and annoy them...but you see my point.

Again...NOT ALL...but a great number of those whom I have had to deal with professionally. Yes, a greater number of guys who open carry are just going about their business, and good for them and I have no issue with it. Refer back to my opening statement and my support of their RIGHT to do it.

The "hope of stopping a crime or loss of life..." or how ever some previous poster put it ought to read "Carry in the hope they never have to use their gun to stop a crime or loss of life"...but again, I digress. Doesn't the discreetly carried fighting handgun serve that same purpose? this will REALLY blow the lid off the internet and get me LOTS of hate responses...but in my experience...the open carry zealot is an absolute rank amateur when it comes to guns, shooting, self defense, and posses about zero point no training. This is evidenced by the $5.00 nylon one-size-fits-none clip on gun show special holster with the "tactical extra clip pouch" on the front and the thirteen spare magazines in velcro and nylon clip pouches and their CCW Badge next to their gun. Of course the pistol is not what is getting attention, it is the SKS with the AK "banana clip" and $50 WalMart red dot mounted to it, they have slung over their shoulder and the SHEEPDOG t-shirt thry are wearing.

So...THIS is the perception, and the ones like I had to deal with:

But rarely, if ever, this....

So yeah...personal experience has colored my own opinion about open carry. Yes, I know the goobers don't represent ALL, but they DO represent the majority of the ones I had to waste time with.
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