Open-carry gun debate surrounds Hometown Fair
by Carley Dryden
(Updated: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 5:14 PM PDT)
Hermosa Beach resident Harley Green and his wife bought two guns this year after hearing about violent crimes that had struck defenseless residents in the beach town.
They learned that affluence and ocean views couldn’t prevent armed robberies, assaults and shootings from infiltrating the beach enclaves.
“Even in these nice communities, you think you’re safe, but gang members come in here and raise hell all the time,” Green said. “You can’t predict where crime is going to be.”
Even the police will admit that 99 percent of the time they show up after the fact, he said.
“They clean up the mess … But when criminals know people are carrying firearms to defend themselves, they’ll go somewhere else,” he said.
Since their purchase, the Greens, who now legally openly carry unloaded Springfield Armory 9-caliber XD9s, founded the movement South Bay Open Carry to help spread awareness about residents’ Second Amendment and constitutional rights to carry.
They began in Hermosa Beach, introducing themselves to the police chief and later the community with a strong presence at Fiesta Hermosa over Labor Day. Everything went smoothly; the Chamber of Commerce invited the group to hold a booth at the fiesta and Police Chief Greg Savelli even showed up that morning to make sure the booth had been secured.
Since their introduction in Hermosa Beach went so well, the couple prepared to openly carry at this weekend’s Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair and perhaps even pass out educational flyers in the free speech zone.
In the weeks that followed, the Greens, the Hometown Fair Board and the city would enter a contentious battle over differing interpretations of the law, leading to Green and his legal team threatening lawsuits for civil rights violations and Manhattan Beach Police Chief Rod Uyeda threatening arrests.
Two sides of the story
In late August, as a courtesy to the police department and to help educate those officers who may not understand open carry laws, Green set up a meeting with Uyeda.
The meeting went well, both sides admit. Uyeda gave Green a map detailing the areas in the city where residents cannot open carry. According to federal law, one cannot openly carry within 1,000 feet of K-12 schools. Unlike some neighboring cities, firearms are allowed in Manhattan Beach parks.
Green told Uyeda about his group’s plan to attend the Hometown Fair and possibly hand out flyers in the free speech zone. Uyeda said the group should check with the fair board because he had heard a rumor that they might ban firearms.
Soon after, Green and his wife set up a similar meeting with members of the fair board at the Kettle restaurant downtown, again, as a courtesy and a chance to inform them of residents’ rights. Green provided them with thorough research of open carry rights and laws and told them that they and others from the movement planned to attend this year’s fair, since all of the boundaries of the fair were legally outside the required school zones, according to the map they were given by the police chief.
The fair’s board of directors told Green no.
“They said, ‘We’re banning firearms because it’s a family event and it’s for public safety,’” he said.
Green was offended. Protecting his family and his own safety is why he chooses to carry an unloaded gun, he said.
The fair board later released a statement.
“The Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair has a 38-year tradition of family fun and activities for all ages in support of local charities … to help ensure the safety of all fair patrons, the Hometown Fair Board asks attendees not to bring weapons within the confines of the fair.”
Green said statistics show that in areas where many of the residents open carry, violent crime goes down.
But aside from his personal beliefs, Green felt legally, there was a problem.
The California state constitution explicitly states that a private person or power does not have the power to make rules on public property, Green later pointed out to the fair board and the city.
In a series of e-mails, Uyeda told Green it was the police department’s understanding that a private entity could pose “reasonable restrictions” on their event, even though the event was on public land.
Uyeda warned, “If someone refuses to abide by the fair rules and refuses to leave, and the board desires an arrest, an arrest will be made.”
By then, Green said, Uyeda had also sent him an “updated” map, showing that they had forgotten to include one of American Martyrs Catholic School’s buildings, which therefore extended the 1,000-foot school zone to cover most of the fair.
With the help of an attorney, Green learned that the building, O’Donnell Hall, was a church building, and legally could not be classified as a school facility. According to the California Department of Education, the address of O’Donnell Hall is not listed under the state-approved school facilities. To be legally classified as a school facility, the building must undergo regular fire drills and receive a certain inspection by the fire department. Since the building is not attached to the school, for the students to regularly go off the school property over to the church building, they must have signed permission slips from parents, Green said. The school has none.
The city told Green that the American Martyrs principal said sometimes students attend assemblies in the church building, so it should be classified as an educational facility.
“It’s like saying our students go to study at the public library once in a while, so now it’s a school zone. I don’t think so,” Green said.
Green and his legal team saw many red flags popping up. The fair board legally could not ban firearms, since they are a private entity using public property and the church building is not a school facility according to the state, and thus the fair is not within 1,000 feet of a school, they believed.
Green e-mailed City Council, the city manager and the city attorney to no avail.
“I’m surprised and blown away that you see these leaders that have sworn to uphold the law, and the Constitution no less, are completely violating our rights and being so ignorant and opening themselves up to lawsuits,” Green said.
In a press release sent out on Tuesday, Uyeda said that his staff had met with the fair board about their decision to ban guns.
“It is believed that many in the community do not like guns, nor desire to have their children exposed to guns, except for their local police force, which undergoes hundreds of hours of training,” Uyeda said.
The fair board, unwilling to risk a lawsuit, asked the police department not to make any arrests for firearms, but asks that “in the spirit of cooperation and the number of young families that will be present, to please leave their firearms at home,” Uyeda said.
“The police department also believes the law supports that any private property owner could forbid firearms, much as many businesses and venues do currently. However, the fair board is made up of longtime residents and business owners who did not volunteer their time only to be burdened with constant e-mail attacks by South Bay Open Carry members and the fear of a lawsuit,” Uyeda said.
He asked that open carry “activists” refrain from consuming alcoholic beverages while armed and not talk to children about their firearms unless they receive the parents’ consent.
Uyeda maintained that if anyone is openly carrying a gun within 1,000 feet of all buildings of American Martyrs school and Grand View school and thus in violation of the Gun Free Zone, they are subject to arrest.
“The chief’s official statement showing their intent to arrest individuals who violate their faux school zones is very incriminating and will no doubt be used as evidence in the event of a false arrest and subsequent lawsuit(s),” Green e-mailed after receiving Uyeda’s remarks.
“(The city’s) attempt to make it sound as if they are giving us permission to exercise a right is shameful and shows their own ignorance on the issues,” he said.
Green and other South Bay Open Carry members plan to attend this weekend’s fair with their attorneys in tow. If he is arrested, Green said, he could have a strong false imprisonment case against the police department, which could eventually become a civil rights case. He also said that they have every right to turn American Martyrs in for not having the legal requirements in place to classify their church building as a school facility.
Green hopes he never has to step foot in a courtroom.
“I don’t want any special treatment … I don’t want any of their money, I just want (the city) to follow the law,” he said.