Monday, August 17, 2009

Law enforcement agencies and the Secret Service react to recent events in which protesters carried firearms legally

This is an important part of the story that doesn't seem to be gaining much traction: the fact that LEOs and the Secret Service understand the law and the difference between a political statement and a threat.

Here's what the Phoenix AZ police said about the dozen or so protestors who were open carrying outside the venue where President Obama addressed the VFW:

Phoenix police said authorities monitored about a dozen people carrying weapons while peacefully demonstrating.

"It was a group interested in exercising the right to bear arms," said police spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill.

Arizona law has nothing in the books regulating assault rifles, and only requires permits for carrying concealed weapons. So despite the man's proximity to the president, there were no charges or arrests to be made. Hill said officers explained the law to some people who were upset about the presence of weapons at the protest.

And in another story:

"What he is doing is perfectly legal," Det. J. Oliver, of the Phoenix Police Department said. "We are here to keep the peace. If we need to intervene, we will intervene at that time."

And here was the Secret Service take on the event:

U.S. Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan acknowledged the incidents in New Hampshire and Arizona, but said he was not aware of any other recent events where protesters attended with open weapons. He said there was no indication that anyone had organized the incidents.

Asked whether the individuals carrying weapons jeopardized the safety of the president, Donovan said, "Of course not."

The individuals would never have gotten in close proximity to the president, regardless of any state laws on openly carrying weapons, he said. A venue is considered a federal site when the Secret Service is protecting the president and weapons are not allowed on a federal site, he added.

In both instances, the men carrying weapons were outside the venues where Obama was speaking.

"We pay attention to this obviously ... to someone with a firearm when they open carry even when they are within state law," Donovan said. "We work with our law enforcement counterparts to make sure laws and regulations in their states are enforced."

How about the incident in which an armed man was rousted by police and escorted from the room during a contentious town hall meeting conducted by Rep. Steve Cohen (D) near Memphis,

-- which if true, would be a dramatic escalation in the increasingly confrontational health care debate. However, TPMDC has learned that there was not in fact any threat made, nor was it a cause for immediate alarm in its full context.

What really happened? Again, ask local law enforcement:

While one attendee did indeed possess a firearm, he did so in accordance with the state's conceal and carry laws, and was fully cooperative when asked to take it to his car due to a no-guns rule for the meeting.

"The gun issue was handled before the meeting," Shelby County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Shular told TPM. The audience was asked at the beginning whether anybody had a gun. One man replied that, yes, he was carrying a gun. He was told to leave it in his car for the meeting, and then did so. An officer followed him to his car, made sure that his permit was in order, and he was then allowed to re-enter the event.

So a guy with a concealed carry permit voluntarily admitted he had brought a firearm with him and then returned it to his vehicle when asked to do so. All police asked was to see his permit.

OK, how about that town hall meeting in Douglass AZ, when the weapon actually fell out of this guy's holster and ended up on the floor? Local law enforcement again:

Officer Marcus Gonzalez, who is the the spokesman for the police in Douglas, Arizona, has now filled me in on exactly what happened at that meet-and-greet last week by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) -- the one where somebody dropped a gun.

"Apparently, there was no police report taken, the reason being that it was an accidental drop of a gun," Gonzalez explained to me. "Apparently, a male gentleman that went to the meeting had a gun holstered on his side. And when he sat down, it fell out of his holster."

Police were not called to the scene, but were already there to maintain public order and provide security for the Congresswoman. They immediately looked into this, and it turned out the man owned the gun and was legally carrying it -- like our friend in New Hampshire, he was legally carrying the weapon out in the open, and did not need any concealed-carry permit.

"We're not really conducting an investigation on this, because there's not really an investigation to conduct," said Gonzalez.

Equally important is the fact that in all of these media reports and rehashes I have yet to read about the pro-health-insurance-reform folks at these meetings who were intimidated, or whose voices were stifled by the presence of other American citizens exercising their legal rights.

I am well aware that every single instance of an American citizen exercising his or her Second Amendment rights is today being interpreted as an attempt to intimidate, to inject violence or the threat thereof into the political process, or as a direct threat against the President, or as de facto evidence of evil or racism.

The difficult fact for our critics is that the open carry movement has been around for a long time, and has roots that go far deeper than today's arguments over health care or the ethnicity of the President.

Just a few months ago, Wisconsin's attorney general reversed himself and put an end to police departments citing citizens exercising open carry rights for disorderly conduct, even if they had done nothing else:

Attorney general J.B. Van Hollen surprisingly reversed course Monday on the issue of openly carrying firearms in the state of Wisconsin, issuing a memorandum that the practice is legal and should not be automatically construed by police as disorderly conduct.

As a gun-safety instructor in Michigan notes, the decision to open carry is usually a political one:

One huge reason why people elect to openly carry a handgun is political activism. Some gun rights activists choose to affirmatively exercise their Constitutional right to "keep and bear arms" however odd or illegal it might seem to the ignorant public. For them, a right that is not exercised is a right that is lost. Accordingly, they are willing to peaceably educate the public that open carry is legal in Michigan.

Then there's this incident in July in Virginia:

On July 2, Fairfax County police received a 911 call from a Champps restaurant in Reston. Six men are seated at a table, the caller said. They're all armed.

Dispatchers quickly sent four officers to the scene. The officers were "extremely polite" and were hoping that some of the men were in law enforcement, said Sgt. Richard Perez, a spokesman for the police department. None was.

The men told the officers "they were just exercising their rights as citizens of the commonwealth," Perez said.

Obviously a bunch of neo-con racists getting stoked up to go out and intimidate union members at a health care town hall meeting, right?

Oh: except that this incident occurred in July 2004.

2004 is significant, because it was also the year that, probably the leading political activism group for open carry issues, was organized: was founded in 2004 by Virginia gun-rights activists John Pierce and Mike Stollenwerk and has served to ignite the "Open Carry Movement" that is sweeping the country.

In addition to being an invaluable legal resource for gun owners, the site has quickly grown to be a social networking portal for thousands of American gun owners.

And these gun owners have made a difference in their communities! Over the last 4 years, the open carry of handguns has become much more common and less controversial as their friends, neighbors and local law enforcement discover that open carry is legal and wholesome. In fact a recent FBI report essentially concludes that "criminals don't open carry handguns."

Anthropologist Charles Springwood sums it up nicely when he commented that open carriers are trying to "naturalize the presence of guns, which means that guns become ordinary, omnipresent, and expected. Over time, the gun becomes a symbol of ordinary personhood." believes that "a right unexercised, is a right lost," and increasingly gun owners are agreeing - it's time gun carry comes out of the closet in America!

Let's go all the way back to the African-American man who chose to carry a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle in the crowd in Phoenix [note to those who don't bother to understand the difference: had this been an actual military assault weapon, it would have been an automatic weapon and the man would have been arrested by the two officers who scoped him out] and note this citation from CNN:

"I come from another state where 'open carry' is legal, but no one does it, so the police don't really know about it and they harass people, arrest people falsely," the man, who wasn't identified, said in an interview aired by CNN affiliate KNVX. "I think that people need to get out and do it more so that they get kind of conditioned to it."

In other words, I strongly suspect that this individual's issue was open carry, not health care.

And since the general assumption of health insurance reform advocates is that insurance corporations are bankrolling the opposition at town hall meetings, ask yourself this: Are big corporations really going to be willing to put citizens up to carrying firearms in their astroturfed protests, knowing what bad press that will get them?

So the evidence--based on law enforcement and Secret Service statements, as well as a multi-year history of an open-carry movement, and the absence of any violence or even arrests associated with these particular protestors strongly suggests that they are not angry aging white guys [especially that young African-American male in Phoenix] worried that their racist hegemony is being undermined by a Kenyan immigrant. No, they actually seem to be American citizens whose primary issue is the Second Amendment.

Of course, that's too much nuance for some folks:

We fear what your kind will do. We believe you all are that evil, violent and hateful that you will kill our President.


h. said...

A very paranoid bunch. Quick to label anyone who doesn't agree with their policies.

pandora said...

Can we at least agree that not noticing a gun dropping out of your holster isn't the best advertisement for responsibility? ;-)