explain this to me

Explain something to me. A couple of guys in Wisconsin decided to sling their AR-15s over their shoulders, strap sidearms to their belts, and then stroll down to the Appleton, Wisconsin farmer’s market. The farmer’s market, for fucks sake. Where the biggest threat they’d likely have to face would be a smoothie made with kale.

But that’s not what I want you to explain to me.

Even before these yahoos got to the farmer’s market, concerned citizens were dialing 911 to report them. That’s what you do if you see a couple of armed guys approaching a crowded public venue. Why? Because of the mass murder of movie-goers in Aurora, Colorado. Because of the mass murder of first graders in Newtown, Connecticut. Because of the mass murder at a Congresswoman’s meet-and-greet in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. Because of what’s happening right now at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC.

You call the police because people carrying guns are likely to be fucking nuts. And the police, if they’re smart and cautious, will respond with weapons drawn — because they know that people carrying guns are likely to be fucking nuts. And that’s what the Appleton police did. They stopped the two guys at gunpoint, handcuffed them, and detained them. Eventually the guys were released, and their weapons were returned.

But that’s not what I want you to explain to me either.

Legal to openly carry in Appleton, Wisconsin

Legal to openly carry in Appleton, Wisconsin

Why would these guys tote weapons to the farmer’s market? Because they’re dicks. Because they were looking to cause a fuss. Because that’s how dicks behave. One of the men, Charles Branstom, said:

“We never did it to prove a point, I carry every day for my safety.”

For his safety. In Appleton, Wisconsin. Where there’s been one murder in the last five years, and only about a hundred robberies. In five years. Yeah, he and his buddy are carrying two weapons each for their safety. Oh, and he’s videotaping the entire thing as well…but no, he’s not trying to prove a point, of course not.

But that’s not what I want explained to me.

On the video you can hear one of the responding police officers explain why these two dolts were stopped.

“I get what you guys are trying to do. … But when you grow up a little bit and you’re a parent and have kids at an event like this and you see someone walk through with guns strapped to their back, your first inclination is going to be, ‘All right, what’s this guy up to? Is my child going to be safe?'”

These two guys are upset, of course. Because the police pointed guns at them. One of them is talking about suing the police department.

“I’m still kind of shaken. I was one nervous twitch away from having a bullet put in me.”

Gun rights advocates all over the Intertubes are horrified that any professional police officer might see a couple of heavily-armed white guys heading toward a public event as some sort of threat. Had they been, say, wearing hoodies or black…well, you know you can’t be too careful. Had they looked Middle Eastern or maybe like somebody from the Indian subcontinent — like, say, Miss America — then sure, the police would have to respond; it might be a terrorist situation. But these guys were white.

But that isn’t what I want explained.

This incident has nothing to do with the right to bear arms; it has everything to do with being a dick. And of course they were trying to prove a point. And hey, they succeeded. The law in Wisconsin (and almost everywhere else in the United States) allows fuckwits like this to openly carry their weapons.

But even that isn’t what I want explained to me.

Illegal to openly carry in Appleton, Wisconsin

Illegal to openly carry in Appleton, Wisconsin

You know what they don’t have the right to carry in public? A Hello Kitty AR-15. No, I’m not making this up. Appleton, Wisconsin has a municipal ordinance that states:

No person may carry or display a facsimile firearm in a manner that could reasonably be expected to alarm, intimidate, threaten or terrify another person.

There. That’s it. Somebody, please, explain that to me.

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that the Hello Kitty AR is actually a real weapon, not a toy. So hey, good news — you could legally carry it over your shoulder in Appleton, Wisconsin.

27 thoughts on “explain this to me

  1. Unfortunately, from what I gather, the Hello Kitty weapon is NOT a facsimile, and is a real firearm that’s been painted to look “cute” for a guy’s wife. Which I find very, very creepy.


    • The reaction to the Hello Kitty rifle is really interesting. In fact, if you’re bear with me, it invalidates part of the rationale for the “Assault Weapons Ban” law.

      You see, the Hello Kitty rifle is “Assault Weapons Ban” legal. Here are the clues: lack of a “pistol” grip (there’s one in the first picture) and lack of a “collapsible stock” (again, see first picture). Ironically, the lack of a collapsable stock puts the gun farther out for women than men, making it less accurate – pink color not withstanding. (You can avoid this by getting a shorter fixed length stock, but we don’t know enough just by looking at the picture to know if that was done here.)

      Needless to say, the “Assault Weapons Ban” passed by Clinton and trumped by so many devolves into an ineffectual cosmetic play, based on your reaction to the Hello Kitty rifle. Heck, it even takes it one further and paints it a non-scary color (again see the BLACK gun from the first picture). Yet that wasn’t sufficient for you to not be afraid of it.

      So, yeah, “Assault Weapons Ban” is a waste of time. Didn’t statistically effect the rifle murder count (which is really already low relative to other weapons: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/table-20) and didn’t make you feel safer – even when exceeded.

      One last point of education: things that look like guns, but aren’t, are required to have red (typically) tip on the end of the barrel. First example via Google: http://www.airsplat.com/Items/ER-SA-17920.htm. It’s really distinctive and you can’t miss it. That said, I sure as hell wouldn’t to get hit by one, so I’d totally beat the piss out of anyone not following “real” gun safety procedures (aka walking around with it loaded just because, etc.)

      Back to the Hello Kitty gun for a second, because the flash suppressor (at the end of the barrel) is painted pink and is, at best, borderline legal, because it causes confusion on this point. I’d be surprised if that didn’t get challenged when this gun was actually used. Conceal Carry permit holders, for example, are less likely to commit felonies than police officers, which is hard to do and only happens if one is a stickler for following the law. I’d be really surprised if the owner of this gun hasn’t painted the tip of this gun white by now, because they got tired of being pestered about it’s color.


      • You make some good points — although I think some of them are open to interpretation. For example, you mention the so-called assault weapons band “devolve[d]s into an ineffectual cosmetic play.” That’s certainly accurate; it didn’t address actual assault weapons and it came down to distinctions that were largely cosmetic. But that doesn’t give the entire picture.

        The thing is, cosmetics matter. Not because they make a weapon more lethal, but because of the cosmetic appeal to a certain audience. The AR-15 is no more lethal than other semi-auto rifles; it doesn’t any fire faster and it’s no more accurate. Yet it’s often the mass murder event weapon of choice (although the AK knock-offs are also popular). Why? Because of cosmetics. Because it looks dangerous. It’s the same reason so many mass murderers dress in camo or in all black. It’s no because they’re trying to conceal themselves; it’s because it fits a certain cosmetic image of a killer.

        I suspect a significant percentage of folks who buy ARs do it because it looks so military, not because it’s the best weapon for their needs. For example, the guys who were detained for toting their ARs toward the farmer’s market claimed they were carrying the weapons for personal safety. That’s ridiculous. The AR isn’t a particularly effective self-defense tool. If you want to protect yourself, a shotgun is so much more effective. But most shotguns simply are sexy.

        Would banning ARs and AKs reduce the incidence of mass murder? Probably not…or not by much. We can’t stop mass murder events; sadly they’re built into American culture now. We CAN reduce the body count…but that’s a different topic.


      • And we find out today that Aaron Alexis, the man who killed a dozen people at the Navy Yard in DC on Monday, wanted to buy…guess what. An AR-15. But Virginia law prevents selling ARs and similar firearms to out-of-state buyers.

        I’m not suggesting that the 870 Remington pump-action shotgun Alexis was able to buy was any less lethal than the AR; I’m just revisiting my point that cosmetics matter. A pump-action shotgun just isn’t as sexy.


      • We’re in agreement that folks at the Farmers Market acted like idiots and probably most of the rest of it. (For example, I would suggest that a vast majority of people who buy AR15s never even fire them, let alone need them.)

        However, I would quibble and say that, while an AR15 looks mean (if it’s not pink), the Remington has a significant audible and tactile edge over the AR15. Just pump it once and your average intruder will run like hell – a gun does not need to be fired, or even seen, is the safest one. The AR15’s puny slide action/spring just feels, and sounds, weak in comparison. In the end, though, that’s just opinion and not unlike debating over sports.

        That said, please be careful tossing out recent event facts, especially when they’re related to something as highly politicized as guns are. As an example, based on your comments, I’m assuming that you read this NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/18/us/state-law-stopped-gunman-from-buying-rifle-officials-say.html. Here’s the first sentence:

        “The suspect in the killing of 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday test-fired an AR-15 assault rifle at a Virginia gun store last week but was stopped from buying one because state law there prohibits the sale of such weapons to out-of-state buyers, according to two senior law enforcement officials.”

        Notice the problem? The whole first sentence is an anonymous quote. That’s a really big clue that you’re not hearing “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Especially because, as they admit in the next paragraph, they’re violating their oath as law enforcement officers and potentially creating legal complications for later prosecution. (See the part about the continuing investigation.) Rotten apples, that pair. Trustworthy?

        Furthermore, the Washington Times took the effort to actually get on the record quotes in response to this story and took the NYT to task for their misrepresentation (summarization?) of VA law. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/sep/17/miller-new-york-times-gets-it-wrong-about-navy-yar/.

        INAL, so take all of this with a huge grain of salt. Just please be careful citing “facts” as FACTS for such a recent event. This stuff takes days to get sorted out – and there’s a LOT of people with political points of view (on *both* sides) chugging out smoke to obscure the truth.

        All of that said, back to the “sexy” issue. (For the moment, let’s assume that the obsessive video game playing reports *are* true.) The R870 is the first gun pictured here – as the killer would have experienced it: http://www.blackopsii.com/bo2/weapons-list/shotguns/. To my eyes, that’s not that far off from the AR15. Black. Rails. Pistol grip. Collapsible stock. Flash suppressor. (Note: no exchangeable magazine – at all. So much for that.)

        Apparently all you have to do to make something look “military” is to paint it black (tan or dark green), add some rails, a pistol grip, optics/sights, or and a collapsable stock. But if the Hello Kitty gun is scary/military/sexy, then apparently none of that matters, because it’s either doesn’t have it, or is so necessary that it’s intrinsic to the thing. A gun without sights/optics? Yeah – that sounds safe. A gun without rails? How are we to mount our optics or flashlight?



      • I confess, I don’t have much faith in the Washington Times as a reporter of fact. It’s an agenda-driven newspaper. Nor do I think an editorial that begins with “The liberal media is so obsessed…” is going to be unbiased. That’s made abundantly clear, I think, when Ms. Miller chides the Times for having “vague ‘law enforcement officials’ sources” and then, a few paragraphs later, writes this: “sources close to the investigation tell me that he did not attempt to buy the rifle.” You cast doubt on anonymous sources yourself: “The whole first sentence is an anonymous quote. That’s a really big clue that you’re not hearing “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

        That said, the article may be fundamentally correct in terms of Virginia law. But this is a tactic frequently used by apologists for gun manufacturers; they find something in the discussion that’s incorrect or flawed and thereby change the topic from the fact that it’s too easy to buy deadly weapons to “they got the Virginia code wrong.”

        I think we’re largely in agreement on many of the issues here…but maybe not on the most effective ways to reduce the body count in mass murder events. It is, though, a pleasure to debate this with somebody who knows firearms but doesn’t fetishize them. Thanks for that.


      • “I confess, I don’t have much faith in the Washington Times as a reporter of fact. It’s an agenda-driven newspaper.”

        Me either. Which is why, bastard that I am, I tossed it out there. You see, the AP had already done exactly the same thing as the Washington Times, before the NYT wrote their story. I also guarantee you that the NYT had this AP story in-hand before running their story. Queue the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/navy-yard-gunman-visited-shooting-range-in-va-the-day-before-the-shooting-bought-shotgun/2013/09/17/31043f52-1fda-11e3-9ad0-96244100e647_story.html. So actual facts were available, in the public forum and in an attributed way, but one wouldn’t know that if one only read the NYT. It’s stuff like that which would cause me to shorten your sentence to: “News is agenda-driven.” And add: the trick is be patient enough to figure out the truth.

        Again with the sighing.

        Back to your Farmers Market topic, I do see positive movement in the Starbucks CEO’s recent open letter (disclosure: currently drinking a Trenta Iced Coffee.) http://www.starbucks.com/blog/an-open-letter-from-howard-schultz/1268. Most interesting was his response to Peggy Noonan’s question: http://blogs.wsj.com/peggynoonan/2013/09/18/starbucks-ceo-on-guns-2/

        Noonan: “Your letter seemed particularly polite and eager to strike a fair minded tone. Did it go through a million drafts?”

        Schultz: “No. What I tried to do was go through a lens of fairness.”

        *Much* more of that’s necessary if we’re to get anywhere. That’s for damn sure.

        Lastly, two such pieces are by Sam Harris, on Guns: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-riddle-of-the-gun and Violence: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/faq-on-violence. I don’t completely agree with with him. He chooses to be politically pragmatic instead of principled and thus lets the government off the hook for doing their job poorly. “Good enough for government work” used to mean something very different than it does today. Both are, in toto, the most reasonable long-form, thought-out, and fair takes that I’ve read recently on this issue.


  2. Joan, you’re absolutely right. That IS a real Hello Kitty AR. When it comes to firearms, I need to learn that there’s nothing so crazy that it can’t be true. After all, they’re issuing carry permits to blind people here in Iowa. Blind people. Lawdy.


    • Wha…????? Now I’m envisioning blind people going to the farmer’s market with Hello Kitty AR’s. I may never buy fresh produce or Kettle Corn again.


  3. A right that is not exercised is not a right. If someone buys a rifle at a gun shop and has to walk six blocks to their car carrying it, would you call the cops?


    • Along with rights come certain adult responsibilities. How am I to know if the person carrying an AR down the street has just purchased it from a gun dealer or is on his way to his ex-wife’s house to settle accounts? And after so many recent incidents of mass murders at public events, if I see anybody carrying a weapon capable of semi-auto fire heading toward a public gathering, I’m calling the police.


      • If I saw anyone carrying a semi automatic weapon pretty much anywhere (public gathering or not), I’d call the police. If I don’t know who you are, or why you’re carrying a weapon so blatantly, then I’d rather be safe and call the authorities, than wait around to “see what happens”. What makes the fuckwits feel safe (carrying), make ME feel really uncomfortable. They may have a right to carry, but I have the right to make a fuss about it if it makes me nervous.


  4. I don’t want to sound like I’m saying, ‘We’re better than you’ because I’m not and we’re not — we have our issues and many of them, not the least of which is our new Prime Minister. As an Australian, though, I cannot fathom America’s infatuation with guns. I can’t see how a ‘right’ to bear arms written when a musket was as deadly as it got, can still hold today. I can’t see how this ‘right’ holds precedence over the loss of life that results. And I can’t understand how the NRA can be so powerful that it can hold a whole nation to ransom.

    An American friend recently sent me this link to a clip from a series that the ‘The Daily Show’ did on how Australia changed their gun control laws in 1996. It’s worth a look at the first two in the series also.


    • I’m afraid it’s a gargantuan error to assume the people of the United States are rational when it comes to gun control. That said, the majority of our people support some sensible gun safety legislation. Unfortunately, our elected representatives are more interested in pandering to corporate interests than in representing their constituents — and they’re able to do so under the blanket of ‘support for the Second Amendment.’


  5. So, a toy gun that might scare someone for no reason, illegal. A real weapon that might terrify and actually KILL people, no problem. If I’d had more than 2 hours of sleep in the last 36 hours, I’m pretty sure I’d have a lot to say about that, at least a little of it profanity or pejorative-laced. But no matter what I said, it would basically boil down to this: The NRA is 100% comprised of fuckwits.


    • Yeah, the history of the NRA is pretty weird. They’ve gone from being an organization concerned about gun safety and supporting hunters to being right wing lunatics acting in the interest of gun manufacturers.


    • I’m not sure shooting them is the most appropriate response, though. There really isn’t any reason for ordinary citizens to openly carry rifles or shotguns in public. In fact, some of the earliest gun control legislation was enacted (sponsored largely by Republicans, ironically) in California when the original Black Panther Party decided to arm itself and began carrying their weapons in public.


      • OK, overkill (excuse the pun) but until someone makes an example of this type of nonsense it’s going to end up with a tragedy as someone misinterprets their intentions and opens up at them.
        After it’s a fine line between control and over reaction.


    • The data about gun purchases in the US is accurate, but misleading. Yes, more guns are being sold, but at the same time the number of households with guns in them is declining. What’s happening is that the people who already own a lot of guns are buying more.

      As to the American people coming to their senses…not likely. That said, something like 70% of the population agrees with the two basic sensible gun control measures: banning magazines holding more that 15 rounds, and closing the gun show loophole that allows people to buy firearms without a background check. But Congress has refused to enact those measures.


    • When I was a working private detective I had a concealed carry permit, but I never carried a weapon with me. I’m familiar with too many situations in which people pulled a handgun thinking it would work like a magic wand — they’d just wave it around and the problem would disappear. It almost always makes the situation worse. I was also concerned that if I carried a weapon, I’d lose some of my native caution and put myself in more danger.

      When I had to go into a situation I knew was going to be dangerous, I always brought another PI with me…and HE carried the weapon. His job was to stay out of the way and not draw any attention, unless things got too ugly, in which case he was supposed to step in and save my ass. He never had to do that, thankfully.


  6. Greg,
    I have to say, I love your writing style. I agree whole heartedly, but while I’m agreeing and equally confused by the “dicks” confusion about being stopped while displaying automatic weapons on their way to a public, well populated area. I can also laugh at your way of pointing out what wasn’t obvious to them, but is, to most of your readers.

    I am a parent of two adults with children and the grand parent of five. On any given weekend I and one or more of my grandchildren could be found in a Farmer’s Market. If I were confronted with a display such as you described I would have wished for my own fire arm, which is at home because I’m NOT allowed to carry it without a license, and looked for cover immediately, regardless of what “color” they are!


    • I love our Des Moines farmer’s market, not just because you can buy fresh local produce there, but because I enjoy seeing the community gather together. Everybody is happy, having fun, relaxed. It completely staggers me that a couple of guys (and of course it’s guys, because women have way too much common sense for this sort of thing) would consider their local farmer’s market and think “Oh, I believe I’ll pack a rifle and go buy some summer squash.” It’s just SO wrong-headed.


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