Guns cleared for Hometown Fair
By Andrea Ruse | September 29th, 2010 | Filed under Manhattan Beach, News

Though the guns that will be holstered to dozens of people at this weekend’s Hometown Fair won’t be loaded, the debate over the right carry them has been.

Despite initial warnings from Hometown Fair Board members and the Manhattan Beach Police Department that people with firearms at the event would be arrested, volunteers of South Bay Open Carry (SBOC) made it clear that they will not leave their guns at home, citing their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

A quarrel over guns at the event began with the fair board threatening arrests.

“They are opening themselves up to a huge lawsuit,” Harley Green, founder of SBOC, said on Monday. “My hope is that by Oct. 2, they will have done their research and uphold the law. If they do arrest, they will be hit with major civil rights lawsuits. There are volunteers with attorneys lined up that will sue if they are so much as touched for legally open carrying.”

The 38-year-old fair, held near American Martyrs Catholic Church, is put on by a private non-profit group of 20 residents. The city contributed roughly $48,000 to this year’s event, which will feature several games geared towards children and young adults, giving special rise for concern among the fair’s board members.

“The [fair] board is keenly focused on keeping their privately-run event safe for all,” said Mayor Mitch Ward, who is the City Council’s fair liaison. “The board recognizes that guns and ammo around children and adults for that matter in public events presents serious concerns.”

In recent weeks, volunteers of SBOC have threatened litigation against the city, the fair’s board and the nearby American Martyrs School, after fair officials said they would not allow guns at the event.

“The Open Carry threats of a lawsuit have been successful,” said Police Chief Rod Uyeda, who met with fair coordinators Monday night to help craft a new policy which will allow unloaded guns at the event. “They burdened people who have put this event on for 20 years with this fear of a lawsuit. These poor people are scared.”

State law permits people to openly carry unloaded firearms in public places, subject to inspection by authorities. Ammunition can be carried separately but must not be loaded into the gun. State law restricts open carry within 1,000 feet of schools, according to the Gun-Free School Zone Act adopted in 1995.

Hermosa resident Green, 24, founded SBOC in June — shortly after he purchased his first gun — to encourage the exercise of the Constitution’s right to bear arms.

Over the summer, Green organized a trash-pickup in Hermosa Beach, during which volunteers openly carried. Strapped volunteers also set up a booth at the recent Fiesta Hermosa street fair, educating the public on their rights.

Green met with Hermosa officials prior to the events.

“A big part of what we do is educate police departments,” he said. “There’s nothing illegal about carrying firearms in California. I like to meet ahead of time for their convenience.”

“[Hermosa Beach Police Chief Greg] Savelli personally came out to make sure the booth was in the free speech area,” he added. “It was very positive. People enjoyed hearing about rights they didn’t know they have.”

On Aug. 31, Green met with the MBPD officials to alert them that SBOC planned on open carrying at the Hometown Fair. Green was provided with a map of open carry restricted areas, which did not include fair grounds.

Fair officials later told Green that private security would be instructed to arrest anyone carrying a gun, since the right to bear arms is restricted to public property.

“The fair tried to say they rented the property and that it would be considered private property for the time that the fair is there,” he said.

Green contends that the property is not private during the duration of the fair, because the Hometown Fair has not paid rent to the city and is required to uphold local, state and federal laws, according to its land use agreement.

Citing a court ruling involving after attendees at a garlic festival were asked to remove gang colors, City Attorney Robert Wadden said the Hometown Fair rules “would not give rise to a violation of civil rights.”

When Green contacted the MBPD again, he was provided with a new map that highlighted portions of the fair restricted to open carry, due to a 1,000-foot radius surrounding American Martyrs Church and School.

Green insists that the church — which would extend the restricted radius onto fair grounds — is not an educational facility and shouldn’t have been included on the map.

“It’s a political game with the law to keep us from the fair.” Green said.

Uyeda said that Green was told the first map was merely a draft drawn in an attempt to quickly begin working with SBOC. He also said that the church is considered a part of the school since American Martyrs students use it for worship.

On Sept. 24, SBOC sent a letter to the school demanding it clarify that the church is not used for educational purposes.

“It’s outrageous and preposterous for a group like this to dictate and define what is Catholic religious practice or education,” said Tod Tamberg, media relations director for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, of which American Martyrs is a parish. “Religious formation is an intricate part of Catholic education all across the world and in Manhattan Beach. Where kids are is where education is — if in our church, then that’s educational at that time.”

On Tuesday, Uyeda sent out a statement to SBOC regarding the fair’s new policy:

“While they will continue to ask all Fair goers not to bring weapons to the Fair…they have informed us that they will not seek to make any arrests for unloaded firearms being brought into the Fair in violation of their ‘no weapons’ request.”

In a statement this week, fair board president Maggie Movius continued to request that weapons not be brought to the fair.

Uyeda said that open carriers who cross over into the portion of fair grounds that lie within 1,000 feet of American Martyrs will be subject to arrest by MBPD. Additional private security will be hired by the MBPD for the event.

“I deeply respect their rights to bear firearms as long as you don’t infringe on the rights of others or violate the law,” he said.

Uyeda also requests that no alcohol be consumed by armed individuals and that the group refrain from speaking to minors without parental consent.

SBOC volunteers will meet at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, 321 Manhattan Beach Blvd. at 1 p.m. on Saturday before heading to the fair.

“I am not asking them to bend the law or give us any special priorities,” Green said. “We just want them to support the existing state, local and federal laws.” ER