[size=FROM: The New GUN WEEK, June 15, 2008][/size]
[size=Pennsylvania][/size][/b][size= Open Carry Incident Ignites Outrage, Possible Lawsuit][/size][/b]
[size=by][/size][/i][size= Dave Workman, Senior Editor][/size][/i]
Open carry activists across the country, and especially in Pennsylvania, were outraged over a May 9 incident involving several armed citizens who were dining at a family restaurant in suburban Dickson City, outside Scranton, and the incident may lead to a lawsuit. (See related story on this page.)
A few days later, about 30 of them descended on the Dickson City council meeting to testify against what they called "police state style roundups of g-unowners" when they were essentially doing nothing wrong.
However, Dickson Police Chief William Stadnitski told Gun Week that his officers erred on the side of caution when responding to what apparently was the agency's first-ever 911 call about "people brandishing guns" at an Olde Country Buffet at the height of the dinner hour.
"There was no ill will on our part," the chief said. "I'd rather err on the side of caution here."
The incident involved Rich Banks, founder of Pennsylvania Open Carry, an off-shoot of OpenCarry.org, an activist nationwide gun rights forum and loosely-knit organization that promotes legal open carry of defensive sidearms. Banks was at the family eatery with about two dozen friends and their families—including at least a dozen adults who were armed—when the Dickson police received at least four telephone complaints about "armed men."
At one point, Banks found himself in handcuffs in the back seat of a patrol car, one of his two guns was confiscated, and in the aftermath, he was talking to attorneys about filing a lawsuit. The gun was seized apparently in a misunderstanding about state law and because the serial number did not show up in some sort of registry, but Banks said there is no requirement that a handgun be formally registered in the Keystone State. Two days after the incident, Stadnitski insisted that Banks could retrieve his gun, a 9mm Taurus revolver that he was wearing in an ankle holster. His other gun, a .45-caliber Springfield Model 1911, was returned.
Mike Stollenwerk, one of the nation's leading open carry advocates, said that this incident underscores the need to "bust this registration myth."
"There is a myth among police officers that there is gun registration in Pennsylvania," Stollenwerk observed. "Some police agencies believe you have to keep proof of ownership."
The incident began unfolding at about 6:30 p.m. Banks and Stadnitski agree on that point. Initially, two Dickson officers responded, and soon they were asking everyone for identification. Banks said he advised both officers that carry permits are not required for open carry, and also that there is no requirement in the state law to provide a driver's license as identification in a non-driving related situation.
Banks said the officers began lecturing the group about open carry, even after acknowledging that the practice is legal.
Stadnitski told Gun Week that in his 37 years in law enforcement, the last 32 as police chief, he has never seen a private citizen openly carrying a handgun outside of a hunting situation.
Tensions rose more when Banks' wife began trying to video the events, and was threatened by a female police officer with arrest if she did not turn off the camera. This was after Banks, who is neither an attorney nor judge, insisted to the officer that it is not against the law to video record an event that happens in public, even if it involves a police officer.
Stadnitski contended that Banks gave the officers "a hard time." Banks insisted he was merely trying to explain the law to the police. It was not until after he had been placed under arrest that he told the officers he had a second gun, the Taurus, and a concealed carry permit. He said that while he was detained in the patrol car, at least eight officers arrived from the area, including Scranton and Blakely police. He also noticed they were spending lots of time on their cell phones, and Stadnitski confirmed that the officers conferred with a district attorney during the situation.
When the police refused to return his revolver after they released him from custody, he demanded a receipt. It was written on a piece of blank paper and signed by the female officer. Stadnitski said that is standard and that the department keeps "formal" receipt forms at the police station.
In the wake of the incident, Stadnitski said his department was flooded with angry e-mails and telephone calls.
"I believe in the Second Amendment," he insisted.
That declaration may not be enough Stadnitski, who has headed the Dickson department since 1976, is perhaps the latest and certainly not the last police administrator to become aware of the growing open carry movement across the country. He runs a department with 22 commissioned officers, perhaps typical of suburban police agencies, and even some county sheriff's departments. They are learning that while the practice of open carry may be anachronistic, it is not illegal in many, if not most, states.
Stollenwerk has taken something of a hard line attitude about the reaction by police who, for many years, have grown accustomed to being the only people in public to openly carry sidearms. In some instances, there have been philosophical clashes between police and armed citizens. In Washington state, activist Lonnie Wilson has been proactive about open carry, contacting various police departments large and small, and after some effort has gotten many departments to issue training bulletins to their officers, reminding them that in the Evergreen State, packing a gun on one's hip is not grounds for arrest.
Open carry has been upheld by the state appeals courts in Washington. But the education process involving police can be slow. Meanwhile, Stollenwerk wishes cooler heads would prevail.
"You don't detain people and threaten to arrest them simply because they are openly carrying," he said.
Stollenwerk and his partner at OpenCarry.org have called upon the Lackawanna County, PA, district attorney to order police to return Banks' revolver without requiring him to provide proof of ownership. They also want the two officers who initially responded to the call to be suspended and prosecuted "for violations of civil rights under federal and Pennsylvania law." The New GUN WEEK, June 15, 2008
[size=PA Lawmaker Backs Open Carry][/size][/b]
While Keystone State gun rights activists were angered by the police reaction to open carry in Dickson City, one Pennsylvania lawmaker came out openly in support of the activists' position.
According to The Scranton Times Tribune, state Rep. Ed Staback (DOlyphant) told the newspaper that while he can understand how some people may be concerned about open carry, he supports the practice and notes that the law allows it.
"It's the law today. ... And it's been that way forever in the state and has not been a problem to date," the newspaper quoted Staback. "But I think if it was me personally, and I needed to carry a gun, I think I would apply for a concealed- weapon permit."
Gun Week has seen the officer's report on the incident.
Staback told The Times Tribune that he did not blame other customers for calling police when they saw several openly armed private citizens dining in the Olde Country Buffet restaurant May 9.
A Dickson officer wrote in that report that she contacted one of the women who made a 911 call to police about the open carry group. According to that report, the caller said that "she and her mother were eating dinner when they observed two males with guns on their sides.
"She stated," the report said, "that she was 'offended' by this that 'one male was at the buffet table with just a nylon strap over his gun and there were kids running around and some of them pointed at it'. She felt as though it was strange and thought about all the 'crazy' people in the news lately. She also stated that her mother's glances were noticed by one male who stated to her 'don't worry honey you are in the safest place in Dickson City right now.' Which the caller stated really upset her mother and they left the restaurant before finishing their meals because they felt that this was not right and were scared."
Staback, who chairs the House Game and Fisheries Committee, has a pro-gun record that includes being named Legislator of the Year by the National Association of Firearms Retailers. He does not support any proposal to change the current state law.
"They have every right to carry a weapon, a handgun," he told the newspaper, "and I will defend that right to do that. And I think the support wouldn't be in General Assembly, where that change would need to be made. ... I think it would be extremely, extremely difficult."
However, Staback did say that he does not care for the notion that some open carry advocates might stage such incidents as dining at family restaurants while openly armed, to "raise public awareness about gun rights," the newspaper reported.
"Sometimes, it's better you let a sleeping dog lie," he told the newspaper. "I don't know what point you prove by conducting such meetings, and you could end up putting a focus on an issue that isn't being focused on." The New GUN WEEK, June 15, 2008