‘Open carry’ issue occurs in city
A simmering issue over the right to openly bear arms in public made its way to Wilkes-Barre this weekend.
Police stopped a New Jersey man with a gun in a holster on his hip around 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Sherman and South streets.
Upon questioning the man, police seized his gun and took it to headquarters. He was then free to go and wasn’t charged.
Officers took the gun because initial reports were the man had the gun in his hand and “proper ownership of the weapon could not be established,” the city said in a press release Tuesday. The gun will remain in police custody until ownership is established, the release said.
A dozen members of a gun rights group brought this “open carry” issue to the forefront last month by openly carrying their guns into dinner at a Dickson City restaurant. The group is criticizing Wilkes-Barre police’s actions.
“They had no lawful right to seize his property. There is no more reason to establish ownership of a handgun than it is for your cell phone,” said Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of OpenCarry.org. “We now have two instances in the same region of Pennsylvania in which police think they could confiscate guns under this color of proving ownership.”
Pennsylvania does not have a gun registry. A Philadelphia lawmaker last year introduced a bill to create one, but it failed badly.
In the aftermath of the Dickson City case, Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola said, in general, people have a right to openly carry a weapon without having to show identification or a permit.
“Police can ask, but if they don’t want to give it, they don’t have to,” he said. “It’s going to be surprising to the public, but that’s the current state of law.”
Police officials and attorneys at the time noted police could not confiscate someone’s gun to check ownership without reasonable suspicion.
Wilkes-Barre police say they were called to investigate the incident on Saturday when neighbors made a complaint of a man standing at East Northampton and Sherman streets with a gun in his hand.
That was not reasonable suspicion of any crime, said Stollenwerk.
Stollenwerk is not sure how exactly the man will “establish ownership.” Some gun owners do not have any paper documentation, he said.
“I have nothing, except that it’s on my hip or in my gun safe,” he said.
City spokeswoman Bridget Giunta said the person was stopped because “officers responded to a complaint of a man with a gun in his hand.” She said weapon ownership information is maintained by the state police and stolen status can also be ascertained by running the serial number through a database.
The “open carry” movement is apparently gaining popularity nationwide. The Los Angeles Times last week published a comprehensive story about the growing movement, noting it is legal, but often frowned upon by police.
The story was called, “Packing in public: Gun owners tired of hiding their weapons embrace ‘open carry.’”