Tomorrow's open carry picnic at Jacobson Park has been canceled.
I'm very sorry for the late notification. Dang, it's been busy today! Here's the long sorry tale if you're interested. You might want to wait for the movie. They're trying to get crazy Mel Gibson to play me.
I've been working behind the scenes for the last few days, doing everything I could to overcome the objections of the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government Division of Parks & Recreation, so we could have our little picnic.
Late in the day on Monday, I received a call and email from the director of the LFUCG Division of Parks & Recreation. Mr. Hancock expressed concerns that a large event, open to the public, could create problems. He mentioned a possible need for people to park cars, and the possible need to rent porta-johns. He wanted to know about my plans to clean up after the event, whether we'd have live music or amplified public speaking, and what my plans were for dealing with the public that may be curious about such a "large event".
The big issue of contention was the requirement by the LFUCG to secure a $1,000,000.00 liability insurance policy listing the city as the insured party. This requirement was not mentioned anywhere in the lengthy shelter rules, nor could I find this requirement anyplace on their website. I was first made aware of this unpublished rule late in the day on Monday, and I've been trying since then to secure the required insurance. All of the insurance agents I contacted use the same underwriter for special event liability insurance. I completed their four page form and I received the quote near the end of the day yesterday. It would cost me over $500.00 to obtain the required insurance, which is obviously out of the question for twenty people having a picnic in the park.
In my phone call this morning, I did my very best to reassure Mr. Hancock that despite the fact that there was a posting on a website and the invitation was extended to two local liberty groups and two local online firearms enthusiast forums, that this event would not be a large public gathering. I told him that I expected approximately twenty people, and all of them would be very well behaved. There would be no noise, and certainly no litter left in or around the shelter. You wouldn't expect the people organizing open carry litter pickups on Richmond Road to trash up the park, right?
I tried to convince Mr. Hancock that the requirement for liability insurance wasn't justified, because our picnic is not substantially different from any other small picnic in the park, but he insisted that posting an open invitation to the public on a website put this into the classification of a large public event, regardless of the number of people in attendance. He insisted that all events where the public is invited are required to secure liability insurance. He referred to rule #2 in the shelter rental terms and conditions.
2. All rentals are for personal/family use. Large groups, organization events, company picnics, gatherings, retreats, the use of rental equipment or other uses may require an additional permit. Shelter capacity is 35-50 persons, except for Jacobson Park Shelter #4 which has a capacity of 100 persons.
By my interpretation, I was renting the shelter for my own personal use, for the enjoyment of my liberty friends and my friends who cherish the right to keep and bear arms. Yes, the event was to be open to the public, but not in the sense of promoting a circus. I was simply inviting new friends I had not yet met. From my perspective, the intent of the rule was to prevent a shelter from being used for several hundred people, as indicated by the reference to shelter capacity. Furthermore, a possible additional fee was mentioned for large groups, but there was no mention of any requirement for liability insurance. There was also no indication that shelter events couldn't be open to the public or advertised on a website, and I suspect that many such events regularly occur without the required insurance, but Mr. Hancock insisted that this was their rule and they apply it uniformly.
Even though I was almost certain that attendance at this picnic would be far fewer than the 50 person shelter capacity, I called the LFUCG Division of Parks & Recreation last Friday to inquire as to whether I'd need to pay an additional fee if there were more than 50 people at the picnic and I was told that the shelter capacity was 50 people, and if we had more than 50 people we could bring some lawn chairs. I asked if there would be any regulatory issues if we had more than 50 people, if the police would be called, etc. and the LFUCG representative laughed and said that no, nothing like that would happen. That seemed to confirm my interpretation that the issue with rule #2 was having adequate shelter facilities for the number of people.
Mr. Hancock instead focused on "personal/family use" and he insisted that inviting the public made this a public event, and that alone was what prompted the liability insurance requirement.
I felt that I was trying my best to follow the rules, and was informed of unwritten rules after the event was already planned, with little time to try to comply with the additional requirement for insurance.
Mr. Hancock told me that he'd like to know what my plans are for tomorrow. I replied that from what he had told me, there would be a police presence and there would be problems if I went forward with the picnic without the liability insurance that I didn't know I needed. Mr. Hancock told me that he didn't say there would be a police presence. I told him that I was dealing with the government and there is a veiled threat of force implied. He told me that I needed the insurance to have the event. I told Mr. Hancock that I assumed that if I didn't secure the required insurance and had the event, there would be repercussions. He reiterated that he did not say anything about repercussions, but the insurance was a requirement and he wanted to know what I was going to do. I asked him directly about the hypothetical situation, if I had the event without the insurance, what would happen? He told me that he didn't know, but if he later learned that I had the event without the insurance, he might call me and ask if I had the event without the insurance, and what happens after that would depend on my answer to that question.
It still seemed to me that the force of government was being applied, with no specific threat, but certainly that shouldn't be interpreted as there being no threat of legal repercussions. Mr. Hancock wouldn't tell me what my options were. He wouldn't tell me what would happen if I had an open carry picnic that was advertised as a public event without the insurance, but he implied that something would happen, and I had no choice but to assume that whatever it was, I wouldn't enjoy it.
I told Mr. Hancock that I felt I was being left no option other than to attempt to cancel this event, and there probably would be a few people I wouldn't be able to reach at this late date who would appear at the park and be disappointed, and they'd contact me because my phone number is on the flier, and I'd do my best to "unruffle their ruffled feathers".
I agreed to post a sign as soon as people enter the park, saying that the open carry picnic has been canceled, with my phone number so people can call for additional details or to register their righteous complaints. Mr. Hancock suggested that I also post a similar sign on the shelter, and I agreed to do so, from approximately 11:00 AM until 2:00 PM.
From my liberty perspective:
Round 1: Removing the "no firearms in any park" rule. Liberty wins.
Round 2: Public open carry picnic in the park canceled. LFUCG wins.
Round 3 will be the open carry picnic in the park without the public invitation. I stated to Mr. Hancock that I intended to have a private open carry picnic in the park, as the website invitation and promotion on a couple of online forums was the issue that justified the requirement to secure the million dollar liability insurance policy. Mr. Hancock told me that I could invite people to a picnic in the park without the need for liability insurance as long as there were no public invitations. He seemed most concerned about postings on the internet, and I think it's safe to assume that posting handbills or any other public invitations would also constitute a public event. So, I'll invite my friends, privately. Ironically, the rescheduled picnic will probably have a larger attendance than the canceled event. I know a lot of people in the liberty community and the RKBA community! That includes most of the people who were going to attend the canceled picnic, and many others told me they wanted to attend but had other plans so they will be available for a future event. It's also inevitable that some people will feel an added impetus to practice their unalienable right to keep and bear arms after the difficulties that led to the canceled picnic.
I'll be in touch with my liberty friends and Right To Keep And Bear Arms friends for the private open carry picnic which will take place very soon.
If anyone has any questions or comments about the canceled picnic, please feel free to call me.