We have two different phrases at work here
An act is illegal per se without extrinsic proof of any surrounding circumstances such as lack of scienter (knowledge) or other defenses. Acts are made illegal per se by statute, constitution or case law.
- per se--on its own
- illegal per se means that the act is inherently illegal
For example, Many drunk driving laws make driving with a blood alcohol content over a certain limit (such as 0.05% or 0.08%) an act which is illegal per se.
This quote means that carrying a gun is not illegal without some other contributing factor. In the case of open carry, that would mean causing a disturbance, or in the case of the NC statute being armed to the terror of the people.
Thus, while carrying a gun without any other factor is not illegal--the fact that you have caused terror in the public (even if they are being "hoplophobes" in your opinion) is what makes the act illegal.
Again, the fact that you feel the need to "educate" to seeing armed people in publi the public betrays your attempted defence of saying this was innocent, since deep down you must know this is not normal behaviour.
It is not your unqualified opinion that will keep you out of trouble, but knowing the law.
Your interpretation might be more detrimental than you would believe.
But, I know that you know much more about the law than I do. You can live with the results of your knowledge.