Gun owners show their metal in Hastings
About 40 stroll for 2nd Amendment
BY CHRIS CHRISTOFF • FREE PRESS LANSING BUREAU CHIEF • July 25, 2008
HASTINGS -- Most of us probably don't know it, but Michigan is among the 44 states where it's legal to carry a gun in public without a permit. [Actually, this is how we would like it - in fact. "Michigan is among the 44 states where it's legal to openly carry a gun in public. And like most states, in Michigan no permit is needed to open carry." - Mike S.]
To make that point, about 40 gun advocates walked out of Richie's Koffee Shop Inc. late Thursday afternoon with handguns holstered at their sides, part of a small but growing national movement to stand up for the constitutional right to bear arms. They strolled down this tidy west Michigan town's main street, barely causing a stir among passing motorists and pedestrians.
When they finished, the group -- mostly white men -- gathered around a fountain at the Barry County Courthouse and heard a red-meat, pro-Second Amendment speech by organizer Skip Coryell, 50, who wore his .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun openly for the first time and extolled the virtues of carrying a weapon.
"Look at all the people around you carrying guns and not a criminal in sight," said Coryell, a gun instructor and self-styled publisher who lives near Holland. "Quite frankly, I don't feel criminals would feel comfortable among us right now." He said educating people about their right to carry guns openly is the "next wave of the Second Amendment."
The event, tinged with local gun politics, was the latest statement from gun advocates around the country to promote and defend the open toting of handguns.
Earlier this summer, a small group caused a minor stir when they showed up to picnic at a park near Flint wearing holsters on their hips. On Sunday, 10 people made headlines in Boise, Idaho, when they carried handguns into the local zoo.
Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Brady Campaign, the largest U.S. gun control organization, said he doesn't dispute the legal right to carry weapons openly but thinks those who demonstrate for such rights are pushy and aggressive.
"Their No. 1 mission seems to be making other people nervous," he said. "That's a little childish. Of all the issues that need volunteerism in this country, in Michigan, in Detroit, you'd think people would find a more useful way to use their volunteer hours than walking around showing they have a gun."
Organizers said they were defying Hastings Police Chief Jerry Sarver, whom they say wants to stifle their gun rights.
Sarver, who's running for Barry County sheriff, denies that he wants to step on anyone's rights and acknowledged that Michigan law allows people to carry their handguns in a holster.
"We're not going to interfere with them," Sarver said before the rally. "I think that's what they want."
The event was heavily promoted on the Web site OpenCarry.org, the premier place on the Internet for those who like their pistols at their side. Web site cofounder Mike Stollenwerk, a retired Army officer, said he and partner John Pierce started the site in 2004 out of a mutual interest in U.S. gun laws.
"It's a couple of geeky guys who put together some maps and a database, and it became a movement," Stollenwerk said.
Stollenwerk said the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that assured the right of individuals to own and carry guns stoked some interest in the open-carry movement, but he added that it's been growing on its own.
His Web site has more than 8,500 registered members and has been attracting 600,000 visitors a month, he said.
The Hastings event was posted, and this week Stollenwerk issued a news release about it that suggested a looming confrontation in the streets. It didn't happen.
Heather Reed, 37, of Middleville, an unemployed animal-control officer, was among about a half dozen women who participated in Thursday's event.
"I enjoy the freedom of the Second Amendment and I want to make a point that women ought to be able to defend themselves," said Reed, who packed an inoperable two-shot black powder antique derringer she had borrowed. "Right now I can't afford the .38 I want."
Another gun toter was Alex Walden, 73, a retired dairy farmer who lives near Hastings and often carries his .32 caliber pistol with him in his holster. He said it makes him feel safer.
About 155,000 Michiganders -- about one in every 75 -- have permits to carry concealed weapons. They must first pass an approved gun safety course -- something those who carry their weapons in the open aren't required to do.
Carrying a gun openly in public doesn't require a permit, though people who want to purchase a handgun must fill out a form and turn it in to their local police or sheriff's department. The police agency is to check the buyer's background and issue a permit good for 10 days, according to the Michigan State Police Web site.
In 2002, Michigan's law changed to require county gun boards to issue concealed weapon permits to adults who passed an approved safety course and did not have criminal records. Prior to the change, gun boards could deny permits for any reason.
Dave Stevens, 56, a high school teacher and an NRA instructor with a shooting range in his backyard, holds a concealed weapons permit and usually would rather carry his handgun out of sight.
"I don't want to advertise. You make yourself a target if you do."
Still, on Thursday, he carried a loaded .45 caliber semi-automatic in the open.
While the event brought some business to the restaurant where she works, Desarai Haight, 23, a waitress at Richie's, said it left her a little nervous.
"I think there should be some kind of screening or test to make sure people who carry weapons are of sound mind," she said.