Jason Spitzer of Chesterfield County, the organizer of the group, says he expects about five people will participate in Saturday’s event, in which they will carry unloaded “long guns” — it’s illegal to tote a loaded rifle or shotgun in the city — and distribute information leaflets.
“We spread constitutional awareness to any and all citizens or people that are willing to listen, not just about firearms but all rights,” he said.
If anyone is intimidated, he said, “then come talk to us.”
“Me personally, I’m not going to walk into Creighton Court. And that is not because of the area. But we do not want to push the boundaries” of trespassing laws, he said.
You could say the same thing about Creighton Court, a violence-scarred community whose children and elderly residents could do without the trauma of seeing strange men walking the street with conspicuous firearms
. When Spitzer and two other men marched to the edge of the neighborhood two weeks ago, they were greeted by police who’d been summoned.
“A lot of people, they’re not used to seeing big rifles like that,” an officer told him in an exchange Spitzer posted on YouTube. “The police, we don’t even carry around rifles and stuff like that. We just carry around a sidearm. ... When you pull out rifles and stuff, people kind of get alarmed.”
They were warned by an officer that someone might take their demonstration the wrong way — a point reinforced by Andrew Goddard, legislative director for the Virginia Center for Public Safety.
Goddard, whose son Colin is a survivor of the Virginia Tech shootings, argues that there are more effective ways to educate people about their rights, and wonders if these marches aren’t about intimidation.
“The open-carry movement is beginning to spread and is getting bolder about where they carry their weapons,” he said. “There have been numerous cases where people openly exhibit military-style rifles in public areas, like grocery stores, coffee shops and on public streets such as Cary Street. I think this is a very dangerous trend that needs to be dealt with before it becomes more widespread.
Goddard argues that such demonstrations should be given greater scrutiny in light of state laws governing disorderly conduct
— specifically a provision that deems one guilty of that offense if he, “with the intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof,” engages in public conduct “having a direct tendency to cause acts of violence by the person or persons at whom, individually, such conduct is directed.”
Spitzer, 26, says he does not see the group’s toting of long guns as a provocation of an unsuspecting community.
“What’s the difference between seeing an armed citizen walking down the street, open carry, and a police officer?” he asked.
That’s a difference that should not require explaining, in no small part because, as the officer pointed out in his encounter with Spitzer and associates, police tend to carry sidearms, not long guns.
Yes, recent high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men are cause for grave concern, if not outright consternation. But generally, when we see someone in uniform, we know who we’re dealing with. Divining the intentions of a gun-carrying stranger is more difficult — Second Amendment champion or mass shooter? Such displays can be unsettling, if not downright disruptive.