The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has a very simple message for citizens who see a gun owner exercising his Constitutional right to keep and bear arms in public: If you doubt their intent, call the police.
“If you see someone carrying a firearm in public—openly or concealed—and have ANY doubts about their intent, call 911 immediately and ask police to come to the scene,” says the CSGV on its Facebook page. “Never put your safety, or the safety of your loved ones, at the mercy of weak gun laws that arm individuals in public with little or no criminal and/or mental health screening.”
However, gun rights groups say that this call to action on social media is putting law-abiding gun owners in harms way. The Ohio-based Buckeye Firearms Association likened it to “swatting,” the action or practice of making a hoax call to the emergency services in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of armed police officers to a particular address.
In other words, calling the cops on a Second Amendment advocate is tantamount to filing a false report.
“This practice is exactly what they [Coalition to Stop Gun Violence] are doing,” said Erich Pratt, spokesman for Virginia-based Gun Owners of America, in an interview with Fox News. “It’s one thing if someone is using a gun in an illegal or unlawful manner. No one is questioning that. But this clearly sounds like swatting.”
“They are inciting their radical base to turn their own neighbors in,” he continued, adding that “Anti-gun advocates are clearly frustrated. They want guns banned. But they have been thwarted in the past, so they are looking for alternative means.”
Well, I reached out to Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, to find out more about what CSGV is encouraging the public to do when they spot gun owners. Below is our Q&A:
S.H. Blannelberry: CSGV is urging folks to call 911 on gun-toters if they have doubts about their intentions, you posted on FB: “ANYTIME you see an armed individual in public and have doubts about their intentions…” I think the obvious question is what is a reasonable rubric for doubting one’s intentions? What specific warning signs should one look for?
Ladd Everitt: Could be any number of things. Verbally aggressive behavior, threatening body language, etc. We all try to be good citizens and call 911 when we think our families and/or communities might be threatened. We look for signs all the time that might indicate such a threat. This is no different.
S.H. Blannelberry: How does this differ, if at all, from urging people to call police on people who look dangerous or suspicious?
Ladd Everitt: “Looks” aren’t weapons. Guns are. Looks aren’t going to kill people around them in a matter of seconds. We live in a country where mass shootings are a constant feature of our lives. If corrupt politicians beholden to the NRA won’t protect our loved ones, we will take steps ourselves.
S.H. Blannelberry: What do you find “insane” about today’s open and concealed carry laws?
Ladd Everitt: The fact that they allow individuals to carry guns in public with little or no screening and training. Several states now are allowing individuals to carry concealed handguns in public with no permit, no background check and no training. Many more states allow individuals to carry guns that way openly. In “Shall Issue” states there is some level of screening at least for concealed carriers, but it is suspect at best. For example, George Zimmerman is still legally carrying a gun in public to this day in something like 30 states (Florida + reciprocity states).
S.H. Blannelberry: What do you say to gun advocates who feel as though questioning from law enforcement on why they’re exercising their 2A rights is unfair and discriminatory?
Ladd Everitt: I’d tell them you are responsible for the laws you have advocated for. You have demanded all the rights in the world with none of the incumbent responsibilities. We will not allow our loved ones to be put in harm’s way by those laws, which surround us with armed individuals who might be law-abiding, but just as easily could have lifelong histories of violence. Finally, there is [no] Second Amendment right whatsoever to carry a gun in public in this country. James Madison did not draft the Second Amendment so a violent individual like George Zimmerman play judge, jury and executioner in his community.
S.H. Blannelberry: Generally speaking, if a man showed up at a local supermarket carrying an AR-15 or AK-47, what would you advise a citizen to do?
Ladd Everitt: In that case, I would definitely suggest calling 911. Anyone who would bring a battlefield rifle into a grocery store is clearly lacking in good sense, and almost certainly promoting insurrectionist ideology (the idea that individuals have a right to kill government officials when they personally sense our government is behaving in a “tyrannical” manner). They present an unnecessary risk to everyone around them and the presence of police in such a situation is critical.
Obviously Ladd and I have some deep philosophical disagreements about gun ownership. For example, I do think the Second Amendment protects one’s right to carry a firearm in public, as it is the right to keep and bear (carry) arms. Based on the fact that all 50 states have legalized some form of concealed carry, I think most courts and judges would agree with my interpretation. But that’s a conversation for a different day.
To the matter at hand, I don’t like the idea of creating an army of worrywarts who report every gun owner they spot. And I don’t think that gun owners should be harassed or hounded by police for carrying in public. By the same token, I respect the right of a citizen to sound the 911 alarm if they feel as though an armed individual is a danger to himself or others.
So, for me what this whole conversation comes down to is what is “reasonable” behavior under a given set of circumstances. For example, you see a father with a 1911 pistol on his hip, taking his children and a dog for a walk down the street, would you report him to authorities? Don’t think so. You see a fatigued-clad loner with a long gun running toward a school, yeah, it’s probably time to call 911. Bottom line: it depends on the circumstances.
Hopefully, CSGV’s call to action doesn’t upset the balance of what is considered reasonable behavior in the framework of community policing. I hope it simply serves as a reminder to report suspicious and potentially dangerous people and not simply armed, law-abiding citizens. I also hope it doesn’t make non-gun owners eager to call 911 on every gun owner they see. But I fear it might.
What are your thoughts on CSGV and their public service announcement?