A group of gun owners have set their sights on a series of Twin Cities neighborhood family events for their own gun-toting get-togethers, beginning this weekend.
The gun owners "meet-up" events, in which the promoters suggest guns be carried openly and not just concealed, came as a surprise to some city officials and organizers of the Open Streets neighborhood gatherings.
"I'm shocked and saddened," said Nancy Homans, policy director for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. "It seems like guns isn't the right kind of activity for this event. We're not even allowing alcohol. … I'm not sure there's much of a connection between these two events."
The Facebook page promoting Open Streets-Open Carry says gun owners will add "their own twist" to the neighborhood events by "encouraging 'open carry' for pro-active, positive visibility of law abiding gun owners participating in normal social activity … Like normal people!"
Organizers of the legal gun-carrying gathering couldn't be reached for comment. In an e-mail to Minneapolis city officials, Shelley Leeson, the gun group's director, said she was informing them of her group's plans as a professional courtesy. "I do not find it necessary to seek 'permission' or give 'warnings' to police about our lawful activities."
She said she was giving officials a heads up "to avoid the overreaching spectacle of any of us being unreasonably detained."
The gun group's Facebook post invites "all law abiding gun owners, 2nd Amendment and liberty supporters" to socialize at the Open Street events in Minneapolis and St. Paul, pointing out that they're not there to protest or rally. The post encourages guns to be carried out in the open but it's not required, and it reminds owners they need a valid permit to carry.
The neighborhood events, known as Open Streets, started as single Minneapolis neighborhood event in 2011 on Lyndale Avenue S. and has grown to four in Minneapolis. St. Paul will host its first Open Streets event in September. During the events, the streets will be closed to motorized vehicles and opened up for families and children who want to ride bikes, skate, walk and play. The focus is on being healthy and promoting active play for children, said Susan Priem, a board representative for the Open Streets event.
"It's meant to be a fun family event," she said.
The idea that the events were being turned into a gun-toting event came as a surprise Tuesday to Ethan Fawley, president of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, which first hosted Open Streets two years ago. This year, Open Streets joined with the city for the series of events.
"It's an open event," he said. "It's a family friendly, fun, kid-oriented event and we want healthy, active living to be the focus of the event. We don't want sideshows. We want people to be out enjoying their neighbors and playing in the streets.
"My initial reaction to this is that it's a distraction and it's unfortunate from that perspective. We hope people will come out and be safe and have fun."
"We're expecting thousands of people at each event," he said. "We had 10,000 people on Lyndale last year."
Priem said Open Street organizers will not ask the gun owners not to attend. "Everyone is welcome at Open Streets," she said.
John Stiles, spokesman for Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, said city officials received notice about the Open Carry event on Monday. The original Open Streets event proposed by the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is a "great event and we can hope that everyone will have a safe and enjoyable time."
Although some families attending the neighborhood event may be taken aback by the gun-toting meet-up, State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, a former Douglas County sheriff, said it could prove to be "educational" and help people feel more comfortable with having guns around rather than something that's "intriguing" to a little kid.
"I'm hoping it's going to be a positive thing," he said. "I don't think you're going to find any felons or bad guys coming to put on a display with weapons because it's illegal for them to have them. At first blush, I'm thinking people are just going to promote good gun safety."
This probably is the result of people's concern that gun rights will be restricted, he said. People are going out in "droves" to buy guns and ammunition because they fear the government is going to take over their weapons.
But state Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said that having gun owners hitch their events to the family gatherings could "backfire." Having people openly and "brazenly" carry their guns is "antithetical to making people feel safe," said Paymar, who pushed this year for universal background checks and failed. "But it's a free country and they can do what they want."