I’ve been mulling over some thoughts in response to the incident we had in Pennsylvania recently where Dickson City police unlawfully busted up an open carry dinner at an Old Country Buffett.Â We’ve covered some of the media coverage of the event before, but now there’s some more news coming out.Â Â For one, a lot of businesses in Dickson City are now banning guns.Â My understanding is the police chief there is leading the charge to get business that ban guns by policy to post as much, and in convincing more businesses to ban guns.Â Â You can see some of the local news coverage here, here, and here.
Overall, I think this incident is a public relations disaster for gun folks.Â That’s not to say I think we’re wrong, or that Dickson City is right, but that appears to be the hand we’ve been dealt from this situation.Â I support open carry being legal, and for people to be able to choose to do it, and not have to worry about being harassed by law enforcement.Â To that end, I support people who do it, and educate law enforcement, and the public, about the legality of the practice.Â But I think we need to think carefully about how it’s used as a public relations tool.
I’m going to suggest there needs to be a protocol for these kinds of event, because when open carry activists get together in a group, as opposed to doing open carry activism individually, the potential for media attention goes up dramatically.Â Here are some suggestions that I would offer:
- Have a gun related reason as a cover to use for why you’re having dinner armed.Â Take a trip to the range, then have a bit to eat afterward.Â You can explain that you also carry a firearm for self-protection, but if the story in the media ends up being “they were having dinner after a trip to the range” that’s more understandable to most people than doing it solely for activist reasons.Â You may have had a gun on you for self-protection, but you had another reason to have a gun with you, which makes it easier to be the victim in the media if the event goes south.
- It looks like the manager of the Old Country Buffet, in this case, was the one who called the cops.Â I’d always be sure to check that out ahead of time.Â I think I recall reading that they did, in which case there was just a mix-up, which no doubt can happen.Â I know the VCDL guys have their favorite places to go where they know they aren’t going to have problems with the owners.
- The message the public needs to see if law enforcement is called and gets involved is a bunch of people were having dinner open carrying, the police came, and the police went.Â The absolute last thing you want to happen is for someone to get arrested.Â Even if the arrest is unlawful, the public won’t necessarily get that message.Â They don’t know the ins and outs of reasonable, articulable suspicion, and they certainly don’t know anything about Commonwealth v. Hawkins.Â The media will only report that someone was arrested, which sends the opposite message to the public that we want, which is that there’s nothing wrong with carrying a firearm for self-protection, either concealed or openly.Â I suspect a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, but I think when you’re engaging an activity that’s likely to attract a lot of media attention, you need to do everything you can to deescalate the situation.Â It’s not the time to whip out legal technicalities on the officers.Â The most important thing is their departure.Â The public has to see that, and it’ll avoid a mess in the media that damages the cause.
I think that individual open carry activism is very different from doing it in a group.Â An individual can risk standing on the legal details, because an individual who gets unlawfully arrested isn’t likely to make the news, and if he or she does, it’s not likely to generate a high level of hysterics.Â We can then deal with that issue in court.Â When open carry activists get together in a group, they are a ripe target for the media.Â I think we have to keep that in mind.
UPDATE: I’m told from people who have been following the incident closely that very few businesses have actually posted, and the Old Country Buffet in question has actually removed theirs.Â Looks like the police chief’s little campaign has fizzled.
UPDATE: Rich also got his gun back.Â The grounds in which it was taken was that it wasn’t in the State Police registry-but-not-a-registry, so they claimed it wasn’t “registered” to him.Â This is not a lawful reason to seize a firearm in Pennsylvania, as the “registry” is not comprehensive.