Pistols Make for Picnic in the Park

Picnickers advocate for open carry by openly carrying

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.

Brian Jeffs

Brian Jeffs.

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.

Powell and Scott read about the open carry picnic in the Ann Arbor News and decided to check it out.

Bob Powell and Doug Scott read about the open carry picnic in The Ann Arbor News and decided to check it out. Scott is holding a handout with the title: "You Can Openly Carry a Handgun in MIchigan."

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.

Ron Gi

Ron Gibson checks out a volume by Ted Nugent.

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.


A: Is there a round in the chamber or not?


B: Is there a round in the chamber or not?


A grill full of Koegel's at the open carry picnic.


  1. By Jason Murdey
    October 13, 2008 at 12:47 pm | permalink

    I feel bad for these people, they must be pretty frightened in their day-to-day affairs if they have to carry guns to enjoy a picnic or even CONTEMPLATE needing to wear a gun at a graduation party for a family member. These people must see criminals coming out of every corner.

    I think they’re pretty pathetic overall.

  2. By RaspberrySurprise
    October 13, 2008 at 1:25 pm | permalink

    If you can tell me with certainty the days of my life on which I will need a firearm then I will only carry on those days.

    People carry pistols for the same reason they buy life insurance. The cost of being caught without it is too high.

  3. By Dave Askins
    October 13, 2008 at 1:41 pm | permalink

    Jason wrote: “… they must be pretty frightened in their day-to-day affairs if they have to carry guns to enjoy a picnic”

    What could have been brought more clearly in the article was the fact that openly carrying at the picnic was a part of their effort at advocacy, not a function of their assessment of Wheeler Park as some kind of extra-special dangerous venue.

    It’s not a perfect parallel, but there’s some analogy between this type of event — a picnic where most people attend wearing their pistols as they’re entitled to under Michigan law — and other advocacy events like the Ride Around Town (RAT), which is a monthly group bicycle ride through downtown Ann Arbor — where people ride their bicycles on city streets as they’re entitled to under Michigan law.

    Factoid: Although open carry doesn’t apply to cars and motorcycles (either a CPL is required or the gun must be transported unloaded and inaccessible to “occupants”) the folks at the picnic weren’t sure how bicycles fit into the picture. My guess is that even if open carry were allowed on a bicycle, a combined RAT/Open-Carry event would be a public relations disaster on all sides.

    Another point left somewhat unclear in the article concerns the graduation party anecdote. The gun wearer didn’t show up to the party that way, but rather called ahead to check that it would be okay if he showed up dressed as is his custom — wearing his pistol. But the host said no.

  4. By Jason Murdey
    October 13, 2008 at 2:23 pm | permalink

    Still custom is normally based on circumstance, the fact that the guy would customarily wear a gun to a family party is pretty terrifying

  5. By Steve Bean
    October 13, 2008 at 3:00 pm | permalink

    “the fact that the guy would customarily wear a gun to a family party is pretty terrifying”

    Hmm, now who’s the “pathetic” one who “must be pretty frightened in their day-to-day affairs”? ;-)

    My guess is that the family members are actually probably comfortable with guns and the kids are taught about gun safety (and how to shoot) at an early age. More likely it was the non-family guests at the graduation party who were the concern–either their comfort level or the safety issue with kids who have never seen a gun or might think it’s a toy. Also, the article was quite clear that the picnic was a statement–no one indicated that they couldn’t enjoy themselves without their gun. Your comment would make it easy for gun toters (is that a derogatory term?) to dismiss your opinion.

    I’m not advocating gun ownership or open carrying, just pointing out that it’s just different as opposed to terrifying. In any case, I do agree with you, Jason, that the real issue is fear (and not guns.)

  6. By Jason Murdey
    October 13, 2008 at 7:32 pm | permalink

    wow it sure would be terrible if a bunch of scared gun dorks dismissed my opinion I’m not sure I could bear it.

    And I meant “terrifying” in the implications for society sense, not the “I need to clutch my gun for reassurance when I walk past minorities” sense that most gun nuts use it

  7. By Jon Shapiro
    October 13, 2008 at 9:57 pm | permalink

    People always fear what they do not understand. I have lived in Ann Arbor for almost 30 years. I have been involved in shooting sports since I was five years old and I have had a Concealed Carry Permit for three years and I lawfully carry a firearm concealed each and every day.

    I applaud those who supported the rights of all Americans to defend themselves and to bring awareness to the public at large about firearms, be it for action shooting sports or personal protection.

    those who are most vociferous in regards to the suppression of Second Amendment rights are those who are the most ignorant about firearms in every respect. They know nothing when it comes to firearm safety, design, operation and the “gun-culture” itself.

    Carolyn McCarthy is a case in point. She is so ignorant that she doesn’t even understand the proposed legislation that she herself authored (House Resolution 1022). For instance, in an interview, she was asked what a barrel shroud was, she had no idea what it was.

    She has no clue what it is, but yet she wants it banned? I fail to follow such flawed logic.

    I feel sorry for her, if only because her husband was murdered. However, her husband was murdered in New York state: one of the most oppressively anti-gun states in the union, none of the anti-gun laws on the books in New York was able to save her husband. Her knee-jerk response? More laws unenforceable feel-good laws which take firearms out of the hands of responsible, well trained citizens.

    However, we are more pragmatic and are cogniscient of the fact that the only thing that would have saved lives on the Long Island Railway that day would have been legally armed citizens, trained in the means of lethal force and prepared to exercise it.

  8. By harry beck
    October 13, 2008 at 10:10 pm | permalink

    wow, what a crowd of effete urban elitists and victim culture sob sisters! always with the small minded jealousy and hate speech.
    As a group you need to grow up and take responsibility for your own personal security and stop trying to make fun of your betters!

  9. By Jon Shapiro
    October 13, 2008 at 10:18 pm | permalink

    Another point I would like to make.

    If one is an atheist or agnostic, should they oppose the freedom of religion?

    If one doesn’t pay attention to current events, should they oppose the freedom of the press?

    If one chooses not to vote, should they oppose universal suffrage rights?

    If one is unable to, or chooses not to bear children, should they oppose a woman’s right to chose?

    Just because you chose not to own a gun, should you oppose the rights of others to own guns for recreation or personal defense?

    You can make whatever decisions you want for your own life, but I am offended when I hear people say that guns should be kept out of private individuals homes. Such an opinion was recently printed in an editorial in the Ann Arbor News.

    The Bill of Rights is just as important today as the day it was written. Our right to bears arms has already been infringed upon. It is constantly under attack. Those who do not own guns could care less as the liberties of others are eroded away.

    Just ask yourself how you would feel if your pet cause was constantly demonized and assaulted by those who are considered elites in the world of academia and mass media. Who knows, you might be next.

  10. By Jon Shapiro
    October 13, 2008 at 10:32 pm | permalink

    Jason Murdey – you seem to have some issues.

    Just because you disagree with someone that makes them “pathetic”?

    You said that “gun nuts” fear minorities? You are the one who is prejudicial and furthering stereotypes of a group of people you know nothing about.

    Stop being such a hypocrite.

    Worry less about the motivations and actions of others and sort out whatever problems you have in your own life that are making you so bitter.

    Why is is “terrifying” that someone would “wear a gun” to a family event.

    I always have a sidearm. My family and loved ones are well aware that I’m armed. It doesn’t scare them.

    You seem to have all sorts of preconceived notions about people who own and carry guns. But its those who carry guns who are bigots, right?

  11. By Ron Gibson
    October 14, 2008 at 1:17 am | permalink

    Everyday in this country one right or another is in jeopardy of becoming extinct. As a free people we should ban together and stop infringement upon ALL rights. You may not agree with the right I choose to exercise and I may not agree with yours. I would gladly stand with you however to defend a right you are passionate about when someone attempted to infringe upon that right. Like i always say “joke’s over, bring back the constitution”.

    What “some” don’t seem to understand about an open carry picnic is that it is done with education in mind. Most people don’t know that in this state as well as 43 others you have the choice between open and concealed carry. ALL we did Sunday, was try to be educational without being confrontational. We didn’t cram information down peoples throats. They came to US and asked for it. I will not tread on your right of free thought and free speech. Please don’t tread on my right to “choose” not to become a victim or a statistic.

    As far as the grad party is concerned……It was held on “private property”. As such the property owner could have asked me to leave for being uncomfortable with my choice to “open carry”. Had i refused to leave, I could have been jailed for trespassing. I could have easily chosen to conceal carry and no one would have ever known I was even carrying. I wanted to open carry at the party. I wanted people to ask “who, what, when, where, why and how”, thus furthering their own knowledge and realization, that they HAVE a choice. They don’t have to keep their dirty little secret hidden.

    What was left out of the above article was the fact that I DID wear an empty holster in plain view, my wife and I DID wear our open carry advocacy shirts, I DID carry several copies of that mornings Sunday paper outlining our smashing success of an educational picnic just 24 hours prior to the grad party. NO i was NOT scared and needed to carry to make myself feel better….I would rather attend and celebrate with my young cousin whom just reached a milestone in her life, than show up and be asked to leave since some of the guests MIGHT be nervous. Not ALL attendees were from the same family that taught me to embrace, hunting, fishing, the great outdoors and responsible gun ownership. By the end of the day most of the people there, after being educated on their rights as well as mine, were VERY upset that my rights WERE infringed upon. Even our pastor! On a side note, after some discussion, there were FIVE concealed carriers in attendance at this SAME party!

    What “some” of you don’t realize is that it IS your doctor, neighbor, teacher, child’s school bus driver and pastor that have concealed weapons. I guess…because you don’t see them carrying it, that makes it ok?

  12. By Steve Thorpe
    October 14, 2008 at 12:38 pm | permalink

    Good piece and lots of interesting, thoughtful discussion. Very welcome, especially since it’s a polarizing subject where people often turn off their brains and start shouting.

  13. By Steve Bean
    October 14, 2008 at 2:13 pm | permalink

    You mean like how Harry did at his imagined “crowd”? :-)

    I appreciate Dave’s coverage of this, too, plus the mostly thoughtful discussion.

    Wouldn’t it be great to work through these kinds of wedge issues once and for all so that we can shift our attention to universal problems and ways to address them?

  14. By mike
    February 17, 2009 at 11:41 pm | permalink

    Is it legal to open carry in a county park?Here’s what their website says.Is it legal or not
    5. FIREARMS AND OTHER WEAPONS- No person shall possess or control any rifle, shotgun or other firearm, bow and arrow, slingshot, pellet gun, air rifle, fireworks, explosives, or other dangerous substances within the boundaries of any park, without written permission of the Authority; provided, that this rule shall not apply to any law enforcement officer who has been duly appointed by the government of the United States, the State of Michigan or any county, municipality other political subdivision of the State of Michigan; and provided, further that this section shall not prohibit a person from legally carrying firearms in accordance with state law, including transporting an unloaded shotgun in a case within the boundaries of Lake Erie or Metro Beach Metropark for the purpose of using Lake Erie or Metro Beach Metropark as access to a permitted hunting area.