February 6, 2010
"We are not thugs!": Open Carry guys hold their biggest demonstration yet in downtown Walnut Creek
"It's time for citizens to arm up," said Gus Konstantaras, 50, of Antioch, who said he was a former military police officer and former officer for the police department in Pittsburg and a department in Louisiana. "It's a right. If you don't exercise it, you will lose it."
Gus--who added that he introduced his two kids to guns, starting when they were eight years old--said it's especially important for citizens to arm up because of all the murder, raping, maiming and other mayhem that is occurring in our communities.
Hmm. Sure, some Bay Area communities have high rates of violent crime. When I mentioned that Walnut Creek is not known for a high number of shootings, murders, and other violent crimes--and asked why his group didn't do their demononstrations of crime deterrence in more violent crime-ridden communities like Richmond--Konstantaras said members of this loosely organized group are not "vigilantes" or a "militia."
They are just "responsible citizens," he said. And they worry about how the state's budget crisis and the bad economy is causing cuts to local police departments. He and others at the demonstration contend that gun control leads to increase in violent crime.
Gus and another guy became a bit incensed when I mentioned that some readers of my blog were uncomfortable or annoyed by the idea of their members--civilians and not uniformed police officers--coming to Walnut Creek to show off their--uh--guns. This other guy, heavy-set with a beard who was videotaping the demonstration, asserted that Open Carry members are probably better trained in how to handle weapons than many police officers. That might, indeed, be true.
Oh, and Gus added that the group had been in contact with Walnut Creek police and even met up with police near Marie Callenders in the CVS shopping center, so that officers could check and make sure that they were carrying their guns in accordance with state law.
By the way, my 11-year-old son came along with me to the demonstration. (We had to do our regular Saturday morning Starbucks run, after all). My son ended up finding the whole event very interesting. He watched as different reporters (including his mom) asked questions, and photographers snapped photos, and a KTVU news crew taped for a broadcast.
Robert was a friendly guy. In fact, most of the Open Carry people we talked to were friendly and forthright. Anyway, Robert asked my son if he was scared to see so many people in a restaurant armed with guns.
"No, not really," my son said. "You're just exercising your rights as citizens and you're not going to go around shooting people."
"That's right," Robert said.
Oh, and by the way, there were no protesters from "the other side." That would be the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. To be more precise, my son and I didn't see any protesters while we were at Buckhorn Grill, but we had to take off early, so maybe the protesters showed up after we left. Gus, the former cop from Antioch, complained that the Brady campaign had been "harassing" their group by, for example, posting negative comments about them on the Internet.
(I don't know, Gus. You're a nice guy, and it sounds like we have different world views and opinions about certain issues, like the root causes of violence in America. But, anyway, if the Brady campaign folks are posting opposing viewpoints about your organization on the Internet, that might be them exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech.)
UPDATE: As of 1:15 p.m., some of the Open Carry guys (and gals) were standing around outside Starbucks across the street from Buckhorn Grill. I saw them as I was driving to Safeway to do some grocery shopping. I saw Gus and Robert. As you might have read in the Contra Costa Times this morning, Starbucks nixed a request from the Brady campaign to ban display of weapons in their coffee houses.