Janesville25.2°

Open carry advocates carry guns around town

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Ted Sullivan
August 8, 2010
— Jeff and John Niles were shopping at Pine Tree Plaza like anyone else.

They perused shoes at Famous Footwear, scanned cards at Brandy’s Hallmark Shop and ate ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery.


But they stood out for one glaring reason: They had .45-caliber handguns strapped to their hips.


“It’s our right to carry. It’s for protection,” Jeff said. “Most of the time nobody notices. Once in a while, people look at you funny or ask if you’re a police officer.”


Jeff of Milton and John of Janesville are among dozens of open carry advocates in Rock and Walworth counties. They carry guns on their hips while at grocery stores, coffee shops and parks. They pack pistols for self-defense, but they also want people to know it’s legal.


Anyone who is not a convicted criminal prohibited from having a firearm can openly carry a gun in most places. People must have permission to carry on private property such as stores or restaurants.


Paul Fisher of Sugar Creek Township often carries his 9 mm handgun while walking his dog or shopping in Elkhorn. He is a member of Wisconsin Carry, Gun Owners of America and often chats on opencarry.org forums.


He initially bought a handgun and started carrying it in 2007 after starting his own business. He wanted a gun for protection because his business had cash inside.


“God forbid we ever really need to use it, but I would hate to be in a situation where I would need a firearm and couldn’t have it,” Fisher said. “Who knows? Things happen in nice, quiet suburbs sometimes.”


Fisher later became interested in changing open carry laws and became active in open carry groups. He would like the law to allow people to carry a gun openly or concealed without needing a permit or training.


He said the state is infringing on his rights because it doesn’t allow concealed carry. He also is working with the city of Elkhorn to gets its open carry ordinance to comply with state statutes.


“It’s a basic fundamental right,” Fisher said. “It’s the Constitution of the United States.”


Open carry advocates often meet at coffee shops or parks. They get together to share their common interest in carrying guns.


Recently, Fisher and about 15 others met at a coffee shop in Kenosha. He said no one panicked.


“We want to show people that we’re not gun nuts. We’re not radicals,” he said. “We’re not standing there with our arms crossed looking intimidating. When you see us with guns, you shouldn’t have to call 911.”


Nik Clark, president and chairman of the nonprofit Wisconsin Carry, said he open carries every day.


“I carry everywhere I go—the grocery store, the hardware store, the doctor’s office,” he said. “Anywhere I can carry, I carry.”


Open Carry is adding about 100 members a month, he said. He would not disclose how many members the organization had.


He said carriers don’t want to draw attention and would prefer to conceal carry if it was legal. He said residents of all ages and professions open carry every day.


“It’s literally saying bad guys aren’t the only ones carrying guns,” Clark said. “That’s a very effective deterrent. I want people to know good guys carry guns.


“Nobody freaks out; nobody calls police; nobody gets alarmed,” Clark said. “The gun to worry about is not the one you can see. The one that you can’t see in the hands of a criminal is the one you should worry about.”


Jeff and John began open carrying about a year ago. Both men carry their guns in holsters.


They said they were nervous at first, especially while walking by police. They were worried about being arrested for disorderly conduct if the officer didn’t know the law.


They said they hope to never use their guns.


“I don’t go looking for problems or trouble,” John said. “The last thing I want to do is shoot somebody.”


While in Cold Stone, people noticed that Jeff and John were carrying pistols, but they didn’t show a reaction.


“People shouldn’t be afraid just because you wear a gun,” John said.


THE LAW

Under Wisconsin’s open carry statute, anyone who is not a convicted criminal prohibited from having a firearm can carry a gun if it is not concealed.


People can’t carry a gun in a vehicle unless it is unloaded and put away. They can’t carry within 1,000 feet of a school for first- through 12th-graders. It is legal to carry within 1,000 feet of college campuses or preschools.


People can’t carry inside a government building or state park. They also can’t carry anywhere that serves alcohol without permission.


People also can’t be intoxicated while carrying.


For more information, go online to wisconsincarry.org or opencarry.org.

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