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A gathering gunfight

When is a public park not a public space?



First, a story that has nothing (and everything) to do with us.

On Saturday morning, Jan. 8, 2011, Jared Lee Loughner shot 19 people in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, including his target, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was there to meet with her constituents. Joe Zamudio heard the commotion from a nearby drugstore, ran to his car, got his gun, and rushed over to the supermarket to find Loughner, still armed.

Zamudio drew his weapon to fire, but inexplicably didn’t, and instead wrestled the gun from Loughner. Zamudio was called a hero, a “good guy with a gun” who saved the life of Giffords from a bad guy with a gun. Arizona, too, was lauded for having gun laws that allowed such displays of bravery.

Except one thing.

It wasn’t Loughner who was holding the gun. It was someone who had already taken the gun from Loughner, another good Samaritan. Zamudio nearly killed an innocent man.

I’m not the one saying that.

Here’s Zamudio:

I was very lucky. Honestly, it was a matter of seconds. Two, maybe three seconds between when I came through the doorway and when I was laying on top of [the real shooter], holding him down. So, I mean, in that short amount of time I made a lot of really big decisions really fast. … I was really lucky.

When asked about his training, if he was ready for the moment, Zamudio admitted he was lucky he didn’t kill anybody.

My father raised me around guns … so I'm really comfortable with them. But I've never been in the military or had any professional training. I just reacted.

Which brings us to Gathering Place and an incident in September, when three members of a group calling itself the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association (OK2A) were kicked out of the park for openly carrying their weapons.

[Timothy] Harper, wearing a red USA hat with the number 45 (denoting Donald Trump, the country’s 45th President) on the side, was open carrying a handgun on his hip when he was evicted from the park. He and at least two others slowly walked backwards out of the park while recording the interaction with officers on their cell phones.

That’s just the kind of paranoia you want armed.

It gets worse.

Other videos by Harper show him sitting armed and open-carrying in a McDonald’s restaurant playground, confronting an alleged drunk driver he says was an illegal immigrant and going into various public buildings and recording his interactions.

Find me the section in the Second where people like Harper are allowed to moonlight as ATF and ICE officials.

I’ll wait.

If you think OK2A is about the “peaceful carry of weapons into and through the River Park Trail,” as the association wrote in its letter to Jeff Stava, executive director of Gathering Place, I’ve got a used AR-15 to sell you.

This is about intimidation and the organization’s own self-aggrandizement.

Now that Oklahoma legislators in their infantile wisdom have passed a law that allows open carry in public parks—which Gathering Place may or may not be—OK2A might be on solid legal ground. The park is a private enterprise but was gifted by the George Kaiser Family Foundation in 2014 to River Parks Authority, which is a public entity.

A letter of agreement between the city and GGP Parks, LLC, the company George Kaiser created to operate the park after donating it to Tulsa, states that GGP has the authority to “select the means, method and manner” to achieve “satisfactory operation, management, and maintenance of the park property.” Clearly, though, the raison d’être of Gathering Place is its public persona, and if this goes to court—as OK2A intimated it would make sure it did—I can see GGP losing.

And the city seems to know it. On Oct. 19, Tulsa officials said Tulsa police officers would no longer enforce the park’s ban on open carry. Jeannie MacKenzie, Tulsa Police Department spokeswoman, essentially said the park is on its own here.

“Gathering Place has its own private security that officers assist on several matters, but police do not have anything to do with their rules,” MacKenzie told the Associated Press.

To be fair, TPD is in a difficult spot here. State law allows for concealed/open carry in public parks—even when local ordinances prevent it, as insane as that is.

For years I’ve been arguing with my good friend, novelist Shane Gericke, author of “The Fury” and other crime novels, and the least-berserk Second Amendment proponent I know, about guns in the public square.

“My sense is that while guns are allowed in all Tulsa parks, as per state law, someone decided the Gathering Place is a fancy new showplace and should be gun-free,” he said.

He’s got a point. Gun groups have been free to traipse around every park in Tulsa, so why the fuss now? Maybe because Gathering Place is truly private, but most likely because it’s the jewel of the Tulsa park system, and allowing gun-toting fetishists to frolic near the Spiral Connector will just scare the youngins and ruin all the good national press we’ve been getting.

“[They] are juvenile for open carrying in public places,” says Gericke. “The mature and intelligent gun owner doesn’t let anyone know a gun is there until and unless you draw it to save lives. Maturity in the gun world dictates you have the tool you need with you, but that you don’t frighten anyone around you by preening with open carry.”

We are surrounded every day by concealed carry and, admittedly, we have not turned into the Wild West. But in 2012, sanity left the building, when a new bill was passed authorizing open carry of both loaded and unloaded shotguns, rifles, and handguns for any reason, like—wait for it—hanging out in a park.6

In 2017, the craziness got crazier when something called “constitutional carry,” which has as much validity in law as Corinthian leather does in upholstery, was introduced and passed by Oklahoma legislators. This would have allowed the legal carrying of a handgun, either openly or concealed, to anyone over 18 without a license or permit. It also would have made getting a Glock easier than getting an iPhone. What could go wrong there?

Mary Fallin, in a rare moment of maturity and sanity, vetoed the bill.

As I often do in these matters, I then called friend of the column Professor Peter Shane, who teaches constitutional law at Ohio State University, for his take:

The Scalia opinion that made the Second Amendment a judicially enforceable individual right to possess guns in one's home for self-protection [D.C. v. Heller] also preserved a wide swath for permissible gun regulation: ‘[N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.’ The idea that open carry in a park is constitutionally required seems wildly counterintuitive.

Gericke agrees, adding the garishness of open carry is “an impoliteness not necessary to properly defend yourself from violent attack.”

It’s also a dick move.

How much of one? Here’s Don Spencer, president of OK2A, when asked by The Frontier what his point in carrying a firearm at Gathering Place was, anyway.

“Because they said you can’t.”

What is he, nine?

Maybe not even.

“What would happen if the Gathering Place decided that people couldn’t carry a Bible or said the press couldn’t come in here?”

The false equivalence. It burns.

Facts are stubborn things:

“Ten years after the adoption of RTC [Right to Carry] laws, violent crime is estimated to be 13 [percent to] 15 percent higher than it would have been without the RTC law,” the authors concluded. Just five years after, it’s about 7 percent higher. “There is not even the slightest hint in the data that [these] laws reduce violent crime.”

It’s not just that OK2A plays on fears and inflates its own effectiveness—even though it does—it’s also cavalierly irresponsible. Nowhere on its website, otherwise filled with its legislative accomplishments, printable targets, and quotes from likes of Adolf Hitler, Ron Paul, and Charlton Heston (with the obligatory torturing of the words of the Founding Fathers), does it even mention gun safety or training.

A self-appointed militia, decked out in Trump apparel, running through the park (or tiptoeing through it backwards), weapons drawn to save the day, is both delusional and dangerous.

“We can have thugs with guns shooting and killing kids, but we can’t have law-abiding people, peaceful parents, there to protect their kids,” Spencer said.

But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Ask Joe Zamudio.

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