On an unseasonably warm October Sunday afternoon at Ann Arbor’s Wheeler Park, supporters of the open carry of handguns gathered for a picnic, to demonstrate “what doesn’t happen” when people wear a handgun openly.
As The Chronicle approached one of the conversational pods, Ron Gibson made an effort to make us feel welcome, inviting us to join them in their meal of hot dogs, burgers, pasta salad, and powdered-sugar donuts. Gibson rarely makes a trip into Ann Arbor from his Washington Township home – but the organizer of this particular event, University of Michigan student Julian Lizzio, wanted to host a gathering close to where he’s currently living. Organization took place through an internet forum. Brian Jeffs, described by other picnickers as the “figurehead of the group,” said that similar events associated with this group date back to December 2007 in Brighton, which drew three people at a McDonald’s. A gathering in Warren, though, had brought out 75-100 people.
Lizzio was satisfied with the Ann Arbor turnout of around 25, saying that too much publicity in Ann Arbor might have been counterproductive. Maybe a half dozen local Ann Arbor residents dropped by only because they said they’d read about it in The Ann Arbor News, which had published an item previewing the event. One of those News readers was Bob Powell, who had recently completed requirements for his Concealed Pistol License, but was unfamiliar with open carry.
Asked if he’d decided who he was voting for in the upcoming election, Powell said he was going to vote for Obama – despite the fact that one of the picnic tables contained a display with National Rifle Association literature outlining the case against Obama. Powell said that overall he felt like Obama had a lot of good ideas and that he wasn’t going to let his position on firearms be the one determining factor.
The Chronicle didn’t conduct a scientific poll of the gathering, but took at face value Gibson’s response to our question, “Do you figure we could find some Obama supporters here?” Laughed Gibson, “Good luck!” So Powell was likely the only Obama supporter in the crowd.
But not everyone was necessarily voting for McCain. Lizzio said that he was mulling the possibility of voting for one of the third party candidates like Bob Barr of the Libertarian Party. Although the Libertarian Party best reflects Lizzio’s attitudes on Second Ammendment isses, he says that he’s not involved with the campus Libertarian Party, which is fielding a candidate for mayor of Ann Arbor (Eric Plourde) in this November’s election. The College Libertarians at UM have conducted a free handgun giveaway in the past, although the giveaway does not entail bringing a handgun onto the campus, which is a weapon-free zone as declared by the UM regents.
There are various other place restrictions on open carry – banks, churches, courts, theaters, sports arenas, day care centers, hospitals, bars. The basic requirements of open carry were summarized for The Chronicle by Gibson, collaborating with other picnickers, as follows:
- the gun must be obtained legally
- the gun must be properly registered
- the carrier must be 18+ years old
- the carrier must be on foot
As a result, it’s easier to carry a weapon openly than concealed in Michigan. There are certain advantages, though, to having a Concealed Pistol License, which requires a licensing fee plus documented training at a range. Without a CPL, transport of a handgun with a motor vehicle to an event like Sunday’s picnic requires the weapon to be unloaded and inaccessible to occupants (e.g., in the trunk).
In an open carry setting, it’s not legal to unholster a weapon to check to see if it’s loaded – but most of the picnickers could determine their weapon’s loading state through visual inspection in the holster. Gibson pointed out the contrast between a raised tab along the top of the barrel – indicating a round in the chamber – on his own pistol, and the flush tab on a fellow picnicker’s gun, which indicated no round in the chamber, even though there was a magazine loaded. Drawing a weapon requires the wearer to believe that they are in mortal danger.
The picnickers by and large seemed prepared to live with the fact that there are plenty of situations where they won’t carry their weapons – some prescribed by rule, and others by social constraints. Brian Jeffs says that he doesn’t carry while working his job as a geologist for the State of Michigan, because his employer doesn’t allow it. And Ron Gibson said he was refused open carry at a graduation party in his own family, but rather than disrespect the graduate by not attending, he left his handgun at home. A smaller group of the picnickers were planning to head over to Maison Edwards tobacco shop in Nickels Arcade after the Wheeler Park gathering. They’d called ahead and said the owner didn’t mind the open carrying – as long as they bought some cigars.
One of the messages that the assembled picnickers wanted us to take away was that guns are not bad and that people who own them are not bad people. “We’re not criminals,” said one picnicker. He fessed up to one infraction a couple of decades ago that resulted in a night in jail: public urination (in his own yard), which was recorded as indecent exposure. There’s something to be said about the importance of keeping things holstered, and yes, that joke was made.
Looking for an alternative view on the open carrying at Wheeler Park, The Chronicle spotted a woman in a big pink floppy hat sitting on a bench in the middle of the park soaking up the sun, and pegged her as a neighbor who would deliver just the anti-open-carrying quote that we needed to provide some balance. Nope. It was Charlotte Reaume – she’d accompanied her husband, who was over in the shade under the shelter. Reaume is a candidate for Monroe County sheriff in November’s election. Her recollections of a career in law enforcement patrolling Conrail railyards with a black German shepherd named Prince filled out the rest of The Chronicle’s afternoon at Wheeler Park.