James Goldberg of Glastonbury, Conn., recently was arrested for carrying a firearm at his neighborhood Chili's restaurant, and his release because his actions were legal has sparked a major debate over the Second Amendment.
But the legislative director for the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League, Jim Wallace, contends the case is evidence of the successful work of gun opponents in demonizing the hardware itself, using fear to crack down on a legal activity.
"I am not quite sure what the hysteria is about people carrying anything," Wallace said.
"If police officers carry openly, is the general public scared? They shouldn't be. Nor should they be scared if their fellow citizens are doing the same thing. The problem is the irrational stigma, probably created by the media, about guns themselves," Wallace said.
"What the gun opponents are fostering is a basic mistrust of their fellow citizens," Wallace said. "I've asked students at forums what they don't trust about the person next to them. They usually answer, 'I trust him, he's my friend.'
"Then I usually say, 'So what's the problem?' If you trust him, there shouldn't be a problem," Wallace said.
Goldberg was released because under the provisions of the Connecticut firearms-permit law, he was carrying legally.
Connecticut is one of 13 states that allow open carry with restrictions. According to The Free Library, others are Utah, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
States that offer open carry without licenses or restrictions are Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota, Vermont, Kentucky and Virginia.
While all states have their own variations of rules and regulations, Second Amendment advocates say the Goldberg case is a worrisome indicator.
Connecticut Citizens Defense League President Scott Wilson said that while the Chili's employees may have been well-intentioned, the greater issue was ignorance of the law.
Listen to an interview with Wilson:
"There is a perceived notion that if someone outside the law in Connecticut is carrying a firearm, concealed or otherwise, then someone is probably engaging in some type of illegal act," Wilson said.
"Never mind what the employees thought. The police themselves are unaware of the law. On many occasions, talking with retired or active-duty state police officers in Connecticut, they very simply don't know the law," Wilson said.
"And in some cases, even after I've pointed it out to them, they throw out, 'Well, we will charge you with breach of peace.' So it's not just the employees of Chili's. Police officers, Connecticut state troopers, and a lot of NRA instructors who teach the safety course here in Connecticut don't know the law," Wilson said.
Listen to an interview with Wallace:
Wallace said he looks at it as a picture of the whole nation.
"The problem is a nationwide perception of people with guns," he said.
Wilson cited the immediate reaction following the Goldberg case: lawmakers in the Connecticut Legislature proposed a plan to take away the open-carry provisions.
While it wasn't successful, Wilson said the reaction was alarming.
"The Connecticut Constitution, Article 1, Section 15, says clearly, 'Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state,'" Wilson said. "Plain and simple, Connecticut is an open-carry state provided the person has a Connecticut permit to carry pistols and revolvers."
Democratic State Rep. Stephen Dargan said bills were introduced to "plug the hole" in the law, but they didn't go anywhere, and he believes there is a better way to deal with it.
"The best solution is to inform the public about the citizen's right to carry firearms. That will be a lot better than trying to pass a lot of unnecessary laws. Let's inform the people about what the Second Amendment means and that Connecticut understands that people have a right to keep and bear arms," Dargan said.
Goldberg's incident at the Chili's is not isolated. Even though most states now allow carry permits, a number of citizens have been arrested and charged for gun-law violations.
The San Jose Mercury News reports police arrested Sherman Fontano for carrying an unloaded .357 revolver. Fontano said California law allows for the open carry of an unloaded firearm.
In March, the Starbucks coffee-shop chain created a furor by agreeing to allow people with legally issued handgun permits to carry their guns into the shops, following a case in Seattle in which people carried firearms into the store.
States' rules regarding carrying weapons vary widely, with 16 states having procedures to issue permits. Currently Illinois and Wisconsin are the only two U.S. states that do not issue permits for either concealed or open carry of firearms.
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