Snapshots of a man carrying an AR-15 rifle into a Riverdale, Utah, JC Penney store have raised eyebrows after gun control supporters questioned whether or not openly carrying the weapon into a crowded store was inappropriate.
Local resident Cindy Yorgason took photos of the man, who does have a concealed carry permit, holding a back-slung AR-15 rifle and in possession of multiple clips. The weapon was unloaded while he was in the store.
"It was just something you don't see every day, and I wanted to catch it, and be able to share it with other people," Yorgason said.
When she posted the photos to Facebook, they quickly went viral. Comments posted mainly sided against the gun owner.
"Wow. This does seem a bit excessive. I grew up around guns and have no problem with people owning them for hunting but what is the point of this?" Shanna Matheson posted.
Kat Ancheta said, "given the mass shootings in just the past 6 months, I can say this guy is arrogant and ignorant all in one."
Some defended the man. "The government certainly carries assault rifles at the airports and major train stations, protest rallies, Kent State etc ... ?" Samuel F. Moore replied.
Michael E. Berrett commented, "this man is obviously making a point. There's no law against what he is doing. I would have simply approached him and thanked him for standing up for all our second amendment rights."
The gun owner later identified himself as Joseph Kelley, a military veteran. Mr. Kelley says that he carries his weapon to defend other citizens against "criminals, cartels, drug lords" and other "evil men," as well as to demonstrate that gun owners are not inherently dangerous. To his credit, he notified authorities he would be leaving his home while openly displaying the rifle.
"I felt no negative vibes from anyone," Kelley later told the Salt Lake Tribune. "I think it went rather surprisingly well."
This isn't the first time since Sandy Hook that Second Amendment supporters have raised eyebrows – or caused alarm. Early in January, Warren Drouin and Stephen Boyce caused some Portland, Oregon residents to "panic" as they strolled the streets carrying AR-15 rifles. In that case, the two men viewed their actions as a protest against gun control supporters and apparently did not consider the possibility that Portland residents could interpret their actions as aggressive.
"We did mind the school posting signs," Boyce said. "We don't want to cause any trouble with that. We totally respect — there is a little bit of emotional sensitivity towards that and it’s just — we were walking the streets."
According to KPTV News, "employees inside of E Hair Studio hid in the back of the salon and locked their doors, while others ran for help for fear the two were really there to cause harm."
Unlike Kelly, Drouin and Boyce did not notify police beforehand that they would be publicly carrying rifles that resembled military weapons. Also unlike Kelly, they were wearing clothing that from a distance could be interpreted as hostile – both men wore dark tops, and one wore a camouflage head wrap that vaguely resembled a militant uniform.
Before Sandy Hook, it seems doubtful that anyone would take much notice of the two – particularly because they apparently did not display any aggressive behavior. After the shootings, people remain on edge. None of these men have broken any laws, but Drouin and Boyce's protest stands out as particularly irresponsible.
In a discussion about rights, gun advocates should keep in mind that sensitivities – and fear – have run wild in the wake of Lanza's rampage. Gun violence or accidents have killed 900 people in the United States since the December 14 shootings, and multiple copycat or related shootings have occurred in that time period. Intense media coverage has not made guns look good.
So it seems hardly surprising that some might see an AR-15 rifle in public – and assume someone is there to do harm.