Shopping checklist: Cash, coupons ... gun?
Thursday, December 13, 2007
By Shandra Martinez
The Grand Rapids Press
GRAND RAPIDS -- When Doug VanderWoude does his Christmas shopping, he's packing more than money. Not far from his wallet is his gun.
It is his way of protecting himself and others from the kind of violence that happened in an Omaha mall last week, when a gunman opened fire on employees and shoppers. The 19-year-old man killed eight people before turning the gun on himself.
"The way I look at a firearm, it's my safety device. I wear a safety belt when I drive because you never know if an accident will happen. I wear a gun in case a crime happens," said VanderWoude, 42, co-owner of a Wyoming gun shop.
Last week's tragedy prompted Michigan native Ted Nugent -- known as much for his gun-rights stance as his rock music -- to write an essay that appeared in a Detroit paper this week. He called on the government to get rid of "gun-free zones" and for law-abiding citizens to "get a gun, learn to use it and to do the right thing."
Closer to home, the incident has prompted a similar reaction.
The mall shooting galvanized Thomas Antor, a Sparta resident and former police officer, who says he plans to obtain a concealed weapons permit and take his gun when he shops.
"I've grown older. I see more of a need. This world is becoming more dangerous. I don't want to be a victim," said Antor, whose letter to The Press' Public Pulse appeared Tuesday.
VanderWoude has been taking his .45 or 38 special with him shopping since July 2001, when a state law took effect making it easier to get a concealed weapons permit. He and his employees at the Silver Bullet Firearms Indoor Range & Training Center, 5121 S. Division Ave., wear their guns at work.
There now are 4,500 people in Kent County with permits to carry concealed weapons and 2,400 in Ottawa County, according to state records.
Permit-holders are banned from carrying their concealed weapons into certain public areas, including schools, day care centers, churches, hospitals, casinos, colleges, sports arenas and stadiums, and bars where liquor sales are the primary source of income.
But access to malls and stores depends on the policy of individual operators.
For example, Woodland Mall in Kentwood and Centerpointe Mall in Grand Rapids prohibit weapons except for those carried by law enforcement or authorized security. Mall security guards don't carry guns, either.
"We are a shopping environment and want people to feel comfortable, and we don't think that makes people feel comfortable to see people with weapons," said Cheryl Dougherty, vice president of marketing for Woodland Mall's parent company, Pennsylvania Retail Estate Investment Trust.
"We are staffed with rigorously-trained security teams and work with law enforcement. Our malls have advanced security camera systems in place. Our highest priority is to provide our shoppers and mall employees with a safe shopping environment."
RiverTown Crossings in Grandville doesn't ban permit holders from carrying their weapons, but if a gun is spotted, the person will be asked to leave the premises.
"Typically, we involve the police at this point," said Randy Zimmerman, general manager of the area's largest mall.
Grandville Police Chief Vern Snyder said weapons carried by shoppers with permits haven't been an issue at the mall.
"As soon as (the gun) becomes visible, then we end up with the public being concerned, and technically we may have a violation of the law," Snyder said, "because the law doesn't allow people to display weapons where they are creating panic."
Snyder declined to say how he feels about people with permits carrying guns into the mall.
Rivertown Crossings is owned by General Growth Properties Inc., which owns more than 200 malls nationwide, including the Westroads Mall in Omaha, the location of last week's shooting.
While its security personnel aren't armed, the company does hire armed off-duty police for some locations, or has police substations in some spots.
"As far as security, it's the No. 1 priority in our minds, not just when a tragedy happens like in Omaha," said David Keating, director of corporate communication for the Chicago-based company.
Zimmerman says that while he works closely with Grandville police, no armed off-duty officers are employed as part of mall's security.
He can remember only one time in which a weapon was an issue at RiverTown Crossings. A woman, who was a personal security guard, was trying on clothes at the Marshall Field's store -- now Macy's -- to make sure they concealed her weapon.
"She actually apologized for the incident," said Zimmerman, adding the police weren't called.
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