Thoughts on Dickson City

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.  We’ve covered some of the media coverage of the event before, but now there’s some more news coming out.   For one, a lot of businesses in Dickson City are now banning guns.  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.   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.  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.  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.  To that end, I support people who do it, and educate law enforcement, and the public, about the legality of the practice.  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.  Here are some suggestions that I would offer:

  1. Have a gun related reason as a cover to use for why you’re having dinner armed.  Take a trip to the range, then have a bit to eat afterward.  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.  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.
  2. It looks like the manager of the Old Country Buffet, in this case, was the one who called the cops.  I’d always be sure to check that out ahead of time.  I think I recall reading that they did, in which case there was just a mix-up, which no doubt can happen.  I know the VCDL guys have their favorite places to go where they know they aren’t going to have problems with the owners.
  3. 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.  The absolute last thing you want to happen is for someone to get arrested.  Even if the arrest is unlawful, the public won’t necessarily get that message.  They don’t know the ins and outs of reasonable, articulable suspicion, and they certainly don’t know anything about Commonwealth v. Hawkins.  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.  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.  It’s not the time to whip out legal technicalities on the officers.  The most important thing is their departure.  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.  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.  We can then deal with that issue in court.  When open carry activists get together in a group, they are a ripe target for the media.  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.  Looks like the police chief’s little campaign has fizzled.

UPDATE: Rich also got his gun back.  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.  This is not a lawful reason to seize a firearm in Pennsylvania, as the “registry” is not comprehensive.

10 thoughts on “Thoughts on Dickson City”

  1. One can vote for local officials at the polls. One can also vote for local businesses with their dollars. Perhaps a loss of dollars can help reframe this issue to local businesses.

    Art H….

  2. There’s a thread on PAFOA now describing the OCB manager’s take on open carry dinners–doesn’t seem to be really opposed to them, but they make his life difficult. I don’t recall reading that he called the cops; I was under the impression that a customer did.

    I think your general conclusion is right, however–if it’s an event big enough that the media could get involved, we need to minimize their opportunity to portray the event negatively, because if they are able to do that repeatedly, PA’s liberal open carry law might not last too long.

  3. One of the news reports said it was the OCB manager. And as for the cost to local businesses…. people who carry guns regularly are a small percentage of LTC holders. Gun rights activists are an even smaller minority. I mean, I agree with not patronizing businesses that don’t want your dollars, but the fact is, the main reason most places don’t want to post is that it send a signal to consumers that the place might be dangerous. Not that most people think like us when presented with a gun free zone, more like “Well, if they had to post a sign, it must be the kind of place that has those kinds of incidents.”

  4. I think that these dinners violate the principle of discretion, which is what CCW is all about. You can’t clamor for the right to carry discreetly and then have a public even where everyone flashes or brandishes their weapon. By doing so, you’re taking advantage of the tolerance of the non-gun-carriers.

  5. If I operated a public business, I would post a sign saying- ccw permit holders get a ten% discount. This might get the attention of anyone with bad intentions.

  6. Robert,

    I think open carry has it’s place. I don’t think it’ll ever be common, because even as passionate as I am about carrying for self-defense being legal, I seldom open carry. When I have, it’s generally been in the woods (a S&W N frame is a bit rough to conceal), or at gun related events where it wouldn’t be out of place. Nonetheless, we benefit from it remaining legal an accepted.

  7. I think in the current climate that we need to be careful about open-carry, but I want the presence of a gun to be no more notable than the presence of my pocket knife or multi-tool. You obviously don’t think of having your pocket knife down in your pocket as “concealed carry” do you? I want guns to be about the same. I don’t want to have to worry about not being able to remove a jacket or over shirt because doing so would expose my gun. I want to be able to go to a restaurant and sit at the table with my gun on my belt completely unnoticed, just like the multi-tool on my belt goes unnoticed. That’s only going to happen if people become accustomed to the idea that people around them are carrying, and that’s only going to happen with education. Maybe we all need T shirts that say in big letters “open carry is legal” (where applicable).

    I think also that the idea of keeping the bad-guys guessing as to who’s carrying is a bit unrealistic right now. I bet most of them don’t think about it at all, implicitly assuming that no one is carrying. Open carry can be a reminder that people are indeed carrying guns.

  8. i open carry several times a month… i dont have my CCH yet so i dont carry all the time, but i do carry when practical…

    usually to and from the range, and any stops in between… and sometimes when out and about running errands…

    since the courts have ruled that the 2nd amendment does not restrict states from passing concealed carry laws… the right to open carry is THE only thing that is valid about the “and bear arms” part of the 2nd… this is one of those things that has been restricted over and over again yet it is one of the key foundations of the 2nd amendment…

    as with any right, if enough people stop exercising it, it becomes very easy to loose it completely

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