It’s their party
BY KENT JACKSON
Published: Sunday, October 26, 2008 4:17 AM EDT
The immediate concern for Greg Rotz was avoiding fire around his arms, not firearms, as he turned hamburgers and hot dogs on a flaming grill during a picnic for gunowners.
His semi-automatic pistol stayed hidden beneath his heavy coat.
“I don’t go to extraordinary measures ... just to show it off. That’s not the point,” Rotz said.
Yet if the picnic that Rotz and other gunowners threw at Hazle Township Community Park had been held in July, as originally scheduled, rather than during Saturday’s windy rainstorm, Rotz might not have needed a coat. His gun would have been visible in the holster at his side, and children might have been playing in the park, which was empty on Saturday except for the picnickers.
A member of Pennsylvania Open Carry, Rotz and others who exercise their right to carry a gun openly and chat on the same Internet forum wanted to meet in person this summer at a picnic.
They chose the Hazleton area for its central location, but learned when reserving a picnic pavilion that park rules forbade groups from possessing weapons.
Rotz and others affiliated with the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association believe the township rule clashes with state law and the Second Amendment, which gives Americans the right to bear arms, which they told the Hazle Township supervisors at meetings this summer.
The park rule dates to 1964 and is only on a list of rules given to picnic groups. It isn’t backed by a township ordinance or listed on a sign that says “No” to pets, motorcycles, alcohol, swimming, boating, ice skating and hunting at the park.
The gunowners finally got together for hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken casserole this month after the township stopped requiring groups to reserve pavilions for the summer.
“We didn’t sneak up and snap a lawsuit. We came to a township meeting,” Rotz said.
He encourages township residents who disagree with him to speak up. That’s their right.
And Rotz respects the rights of others even while he defends his own.
If he is shopping and a storeowner asks him to conceal his weapon or leave the store, Rotz complies.
“Their private property right is no less important than my Second Amendment right,” he said.
A resident of Chambersburg, Franklin County, who takes his 12-year-old son target shooting, Rotz straps on a gun and a seatbelt for the same reason: to protect his family.
“When you need a police officer, you make a phone call and you wait. In certain situations, you can’t afford to wait,” he said.
He doesn’t display his weapon all the time. Company rules, for example, prohibit him from doing so at his job as a shipping clerk.
“I don’t say you should carry open all the time. We want people to know it’s a legal option,” Rotz said.
While a small percentage of Pennsylvanians carry guns in public view, state law allows anyone not prohibited from possessing a gun for other reasons such as criminal conviction, to openly carry a gun while walking. Philadelphia is an exception; people need a permit to carry a gun there. Elsewhere in the state, gun owners need permits to carry a concealed gun or to carry a gun in a motor vehicle.
A Lebanon County mother had her permit revoked in September for wearing a gun on her hip at her child’s soccer match. Meleanie Hain regained her permit on Oct. 14 at a court hearing that Rotz and other gunowners attended to support her.
Legal gun owners aren’t the problem, Craig Budde of Hazleton said at the picnic, which he attended with his sons.
“Who would you rather see with guns? Us — the honest citizens or the drug dealers?” said Budde, who claimed that one of five people arrested for allegedly dealing cocaine on Thursday night in Hazleton lived a few blocks from him.
Beverly Vincent of Pittston, who attended the picnic with her husband, Norman, said owning a gun is as basic as owning a rottweiller.
“Nobody ever asks, ‘Why do you have that dog?’” Vincent said. “Guns have been around since the beginning. They used to be carried more openly than they are now.”
Tom Young, who drove about 80 minutes from Campbelltown, Lebanon County, to attend the picnic, said he sometimes carries a gun openly.
“It’s a legal right,” Young said. “Each person has their own right if they do choose to.”