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Guns on Cherry Street

What some open-carry advocates want us to get used to



Guns on Cherry Street

For Sabine Brown, the week, already filled with lies, anger, exhaustion, and men with guns, couldn’t end fast enough.

And then her kids wanted to talk about monsters.

“Arguing with the oldest one about the existence of them in sewers,” she tells me.

It’s an image I can’t shake.

Not that the monsters aren’t in the sewers—it’s where I’d be were I one—but the worry that they emerge from time to time and troll through farmers markets and restaurants.

Brown is the Oklahoma chapter head of Moms Demand Action, an organization formed after Sandy Hook that gives mothers and families of gun violence a platform for action, and she met members with clipboards on Cherry Street a few Saturdays back, intending to sign up new ones.

Which brings us to the Oklahoma Open Carry Association. Its motto is “Carry Responsibly, Carry Often” (Oy), and if you go to its website … you know what? Don’t. I’ll save you the trouble. There are flags waving, dire pronouncements about the end of the Republic, and a collage of photos: a nuzzling couple, armed; an African American family, parents, two kids, mom and dad, armed; a single woman, arms folded, armed with two weapons; and two smiling 20-something girls in halter tops, arms around each other, both armed. They are from NRA Central Casting, self-satisfied, smirking, posturing, and better looking than the ones you meet in Walmart parking lots. In its message statement, OKOCA says one of its goals is to “educate and desensitize the public and members of the law enforcement community about the legality of the open carry of a handgun in public.” My email to the group to double check about that Saturday in particular yet goes unanswered.

“Desensitize”? Carumba!

On Saturday, May 31, outside the Farmers Market on Cherry Street, they came to make that point, and make it to Brown and her group of MDA volunteers.

“We got out there at 8 a.m.,” said Brown. “They showed up shortly before 9. There were nine or ten of them. At some point they walked through the market.”

This from a blog at freedompost.com about that morning: “They were a bit surprised when members of The Oklahoma Open Carry Association approached them to ask some questions.”

Men with guns who just want to “ask some questions” tend to have that effect on moms in t-shirts.

“We had five volunteers that day with clipboards,” Brown said, “signing people up.”

Read that again: they had clipboards and men with guns approached them to "ask some questions."

MDA was formed the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and that’s why Brown was there—to remind people about the dangers of too many weapons in the hands too many, of children hiding under desks to avoid gunfire, and almost daily Facebook and Yahoo updates that flash, “Another University Shooting.”

“We have a goal,” Brown said, “of signing up 1 million people across the country who will commit to voting for candidates in the midterm elections that support common-sense gun laws.” 

So why were there men with guns in and around the Cherry Street Farmers’ Market? According to the OKOCA’s mission statement, the second—you should pardon expression—bullet: It is to exercise a natural right to self defense using the most efficient and common tool, a handgun.

It’s also, apparently, to be intimidating, browbeating assholes.

They will also tell you they had a legal right to be there, and they’re right. They do. In Oklahoma, open-carry laws allow them to strut around with certain weapons in plain sight, as long as they have state-issued permits, which are as difficult to get as gift cards to Dave and Buster’s. 

And like permits are the issue anyway?

Often when standing next to someone with Browning Hi Power in his pocket, I think to myself, “Whew! At least he has the appropriate paperwork for this weapon in a glove compartment somewhere.”

An Oklahoman can obtain a permit after just hours of training and the firing of a few dozen rounds of ammo; so, five bursts of ten rounds, manage to stay awake for the class, send a check to OSBI, and, presto, you’re a defender of freedom.

So maybe you had to be there.

“My first thought,” Brown told me, “when a group of men openly carrying loaded weapons arrives is not that they must have good intentions. Nine armed men around two people with clipboards isn't exactly conducive to civil conversation.”

It then began to rain. She and another volunteer decided to grab lunch.

“We picked Chipotle because of their statement about guns,” Brown said—or, so she thought was the restaurant chain’s statement about guns..

When she got there, she had company.

According to OKOCA as interviewed by FreedomOutpost.com, “MDA activists then proceeded to take pictures of the gun owners and attempted to portray them as intimidating and threatening. The management wasn't having any of it; he threw Moms Demand Action out of his store!”

Except, not so much.

“At no point were we thrown out or evenly politely asked to leave,” said Brown. “The reason we left is because my children were joining us.  I didn't feel safe having them with men who were carrying loaded weapons.”

“I took pictures, yes,” said Brown, “I wanted to document what these men were doing, and now I guess I have to live with the shit story making the rounds about us being thrown out.”

And that’s because other than KRMG, which quoted the open-carry organization’s take on the events, no other local media outlet picked up the story. Apparently, armed men parading up and down Cherry Street on a Saturday morning in May doesn’t make it in to the local news cycle.

Must have been a lot going on in Tulsa that day.

For the record, Chipotle only requests that guns not be brought into their establishments—there’s no outright prohibition—meaning it’s up to the discretion of each manager to determine and enforce the policy.

What could wrong there? You’re a 21-year-old manager with a paper hat and you’re looking at someone with a Smith and Wesson in a holster. It seems like the ideal moment to discuss the Supreme Court Decision (U.S. vs. Miller, 1939) on whether individuals not in a militia even have a right to carry a gun.

Here’s what happened next, at least according to Brown: “They never said anything to us in Chipotle other than when we walked out. One [member of OKOCA] said, ‘You're not staying?’”

Nice, huh? Maybe they weren’t done asking questions.

The douchebaggery. It burns.

“One of them had a German shepherd on a chainlink leash both at the market and in Chipotle. He said it was a service dog.”

You know, for protection.

Remember, they just wanted  “to ask questions.”

“I was pretty calm while it was going on,” Brown said, “but now that I sit here thinking about it, I am just pissed. And now these jackasses are commenting on our page. They said that I know ‘good and well’ they weren’t there to intimidate.” 

(Incidentally, Brown and her husband just came back from Italy, where they went for their anniversary. It is a country where there are 1.28 death by guns for everyone 100,000; the country they left—10.3 deaths by the same number. Ten times fewer deaths. In the Italian Constitution there is no explicit right for individuals to possess guns. Just saying.)

The manager at Chipotle told me, no, Brown and her crew were not thrown out, but, yes, the company frowns about pictures being taken in its restaurants.

In corporate America, it’s not the guns; it’s the pictures of guns.

And, anyway, what happened on Cherry Street is not the story—it’s just part of the new American dystopia. It’s a loaded gun left in a toy aisle at Target; it’s the NRA announcing the bringing of guns into a place like Chipotle as “weird” but then walking back the statement because organizations like OKOCA bitched; it’s North Las Vegas and Troutdale (and how many more places of carnage since this was written and its publication); it’s armed men all over this country with AR-15s slung over their shoulders, buying Oreos and beer and strutting around like peacocks, convinced they’re what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they talked of militias; it’s a bankrupt paradigm in this country where gun merchants sell weapons to the bad and then convince the good they must arm themselves to meet the threat; and, somewhere, it’s a mother and daughter, ordering a burrito, while a man stands next to them, fondling his Glock. 

Desensitized yet?

Chief Justice Warren Burger, a Richard Nixon appointee, wrote, “The Second Amendment has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud,' on the American public.”

“I guess in their America,” said Brown, “you are to assume that people you don't know approaching you with loaded and openly displayed weapons have only the best of intentions. It’s what these assholes want us to get used to.”

Not just their America—ours.

There are monsters among us.


Editor’s note: The print edition of this piece quoted GOP official Todd Kincannon as saying, in reference to the mass killing of students at UC-Santa Barbara, that victims were “bitches who cried before dying.” Kincannon’s words were actually, “No idea how my son will die, but I know it won’t be cowering like a bitch at UC Santa Barbara. Any son of mine would have been shooting back.”