Openly carrying their guns, group touts unorthodox beliefs at Burton park
by Melissa Burden | The Flint Journal
Saturday June 14, 2008, 7:17 PM
BURTON, Michigan -- Pistols in their holsters and holsters on their hips, a small group of people who believe in the right to openly carry -- loaded handguns, that is -- met today at Kelly Lake Park for a picnic and spread the word about their unorthodox beliefs.
"We don't do this for attention or to show off," said retired postal worker Jerry Brewer, 55, of Owosso. "We just purely want to educate."
State of Michigan geologist Brian Jeffs, 50, of Bath Township near Lansing has openly carried his 9mm semiautomatic Smith & Wesson for the past eight months, while Nathan Nephew, 21, of Frankenmuth, who works in information technology, claims he openly carries his handgun to protect himself and his loved ones.
And what they are doing is legal, as long as the handguns they are carrying are visible and stay in their holsters, said Burton Police Chief John Benthall. Brandishing the weapon would be breaking the law, Benthall said.
"I have researched this every way I can and I cannot find any law against it," he said.
Brewer, Nephew and Jeffs are all members of the online community at www.opencarry.org, a pro-gun Web site that claims thousands of registered members across the U.S.
At about noon, a group of about six open-carry advocates gathered in a picnic area in the nearly empty park, with just an angler or two across the lake.
Jeffs said the open-carry group grew to about 16 or 17 later in the afternoon and that a few park-goers stopped to ask questions.
Benthall said Friday that Burton police weren't going to react to the group meeting in public, nor have a police presence at the park, unless they received a call. Benthall said he had contact with members of opencarry.org about an open carry and meeting in Burton.
"I haven't given them permission," Benthall said. "I personally don't think this is a good idea. I think this is going to frighten people who don't understand that is legal."
Jeffs said he and others who post on opencarry.org want to help the public become more aware and more accustomed to seeing people openly carrying handguns, knowing that it is legal and that "you shouldn't necessarily feel threatened and call the police."
Jeffs said he takes his 9mm with him on the weekends when he heads into Lansing to shop or stop by a coffee shop.
"I'm doing it for the fact that I want to exercise a right," he said.
Brewer, who hosts "Saturday Afternoon Shootout" with his son, Steve, every other Saturday at 3 p.m. on www.FlintTalkRadio.com., said he's had few questions when out in public with his gun on his hip, including some from law enforcement.
The Michigan group has met a few times in the past six months or so, openly packing their pistols, including at a Flint Township McDonald's.
Nephew, who came to the picnic with his live-in girlfriend, Christina Florence, 24, and her daughter, KayleeAnna Florence, 3, claimed carrying the weapon is a deterrent to being mugged or attacked.
Florence said she was apprehensive about guns for a time, having not grown up with them around, but feels safer with Nephew carrying his.
She also has a concealed permit, but doesn't openly carry.
But they are careful with the weapon and feel safe carrying it around KayleeAnna, Nephew and Florence said.
"It's either in my holster or it's locked up," Nephew said.