Gun owners call off bringing weapons to neighborhood events

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH, LYDIA COUTR and AMP;#XE9; , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: June 20, 2013 - 9:07 PM

Citing intimidation by opponents, a gun-owners group dropped plans to carry weapons openly at Twin Cities neighborhood events.

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Andre Vernon performed a trick during the 2011 Open Streets event, which closed a section of Lyndale Avenue South in Minneapolis to allow people to walk and ride bikes and skateboards freely through the area.

Photo: Leah Millis, Star Tribune file photo

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Citing intimidating reaction from “anti-gun zealots,” a gun-owners group said Thursday it has shelved its intention to gather at Twin Cities neighborhood family events with their weapons in full view.

Shelley Leeson, the gun group’s director, explained that she called off the “meet-ups” because “people kind of freaked out and didn’t understand that we were just meeting up. It wasn’t trying to be some sort of demonstration. … I understand the concerns, but I think they are truly unwarranted.”

The group’s call to have permitted gun owners carry their weapons openly at Open Streets events came as a surprise to some city officials and organizers. During the events, streets are closed to motorized vehicles to allow families to ride bikes, skate, walk and play.

Nancy Homans, policy director for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, said earlier this week that she was “shocked and saddened” by the prospect of gun owners at the gatherings with their weapons in full view, which the state law allows for those with a carry permit. “It seems like [it] isn’t the right kind of activity for this event.”

Leeson, 51, of northeast Minneapolis, said she shelved the “Open Streets-Open Carry” event because she was concerned about putting her fellow members “in a situation where they would be intimidated” by opponents who went online in recent days and threatened to “get in our face” at the gatherings. She pointed to one person’s threat to “bring a bullhorn and stand next to us.”

Leeson declared on the Facebook page promoting Open Streets-Open Carry that “the anti-gun zealots have proved their intolerance.”

The first of five Open Streets events is scheduled for Sunday at Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue in south Minneapolis. The event started as a single Minneapolis neighborhood gathering in 2011 on Lyndale Avenue S. and has grown to four in Minneapolis. St. Paul will host its first Open Streets event in September.

Leeson, a gun owner most of her life who “makes ends meet” as a seamstress and dog trainer, said she was expecting no more than one or two dozen gun owners to show up. She said they have all gone through the required background checks and “showed that we are not criminals.”

Susan Priem, a board member for the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, who sponsors Open Streets, said Thursday that everyone is welcome — armed or not.

She said she believes the concerns about gun owners having their weapons in full view and mingling amid the gathering “got … out of proportion, generated a lot of feelings on both sides of the issue. And that’s not what Open Streets is about.”

Andrew Rothman, vice president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance in Minnesota, said he has had a carry permit for 10 years, and routinely carries a gun openly without problems.

“Having an organized group do it was apparently startling to people,” Rothman said. “When people do it organically and individually, it turns out to be less of an issue.”

Rothman added that he didn’t see why Leeson’s group would telegraph their intentions to “do an ordinary and legal thing.”

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, an ardent supporter of gun rights, said he approved of the group’s decision to not attend. He said he’s always armed, but it’s always concealed.

“I fully support somebody’s right to carry,” he said. “And you know, if they wanted to carry with the coat on and carry a sign, I’d rather see them carry the sign than an open [weapon]. Why push the envelope?”

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