Protester defends bringing guns to Obama rally

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA
  • Star Tribune
  • September 15, 2009 - 3:38 PM

Josh Hendrickson left his children at home Saturday and went to downtown Minneapolis, where President Obama was scheduled to speak, carrying two loaded pistols -- one in a holster under his camo shirt and another in a back pocket. He spent the next seven hours standing in front of Target Center, he said, not to cause trouble, but to make a point.

"The Second Amendment isn't suspended just because the president's in town," said Hendrickson, 32, who said he showed police at Obama's health care rally his license to carry and conceal a weapon under state law.

Minneapolis police confirmed that they questioned a man Saturday in front of Target Center. They did not identify Hendrickson, but Hendrickson said he was questioned by Minneapolis police and a Secret Service agent after he said they spotted the outline of his weapon.

Hendrickson said he carried a .40 caliber Glock 22 handgun concealed in a holster on his hip, and a smaller Kel Tec 380 in a pocket.

As Obama has held rallies across the country in recent weeks, there have been isolated reports of individuals showing up carrying guns -- one incident in New Hampshire involved a man with a gun strapped to his leg. While Hendrickson said he was not motivated by those events, he said he sympathized with those attempting to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms

"I'm a pretty laid-back guy that loves his kids and his country," Hendrickson said.

He added, however, that he had just been released from jail a month earlier on an assault charge for pepper-spraying a customer at a Cub Foods in Brooklyn Center, where he worked as a security guard.

"It didn't cause a commotion," said Hendrickson, who said he never intended to try to enter Target Center on Saturday, standing instead with a group of protesters across from the building.

Hendrickson said he mulled over whether to bring a gun and finally decided to take it because when he typically leaves the house, "I grab my wallet, my keys and my gun."

Legal but questionable

Minnesota law allows concealed weapons in public, and Minneapolis Police Sgt. Jesse Garcia said that what Hendrickson did was not illegal. But, he said, "it was probably one of those days he could have left it at home. He still retained his Second Amendment rights, but he's going to be questioned.

"This is not your average, ordinary Britney Spears concert," Garcia said.

Although police said there were no arrests at Saturday's rally, supporters of the president and a group of fewer than 200 protesters hurled insults at one another from opposite sides of a police barricade. While the Obama supporters chanted "Fired Up and Ready to Go" as they left the rally, protesters carried signs that read "Better Dead Than Red," "Obama Lied, Grandma Died," and "War Criminal."

At the height of the confrontation, police formed a line to separate the two crowds as other officers on horseback looked on.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, the House sponsor of Minnesota's conceal and carry law, said Hendrickson could have made his point without carrying a loaded gun to the rally. "Carry an empty holster," he suggested.

Of Hendrickson's actions on Saturday, Howes said, "You shouldn't do that -- but, yet, you can. But it's just, I think, silly." Howes said it was virtually impossible to write legislation to cover every possible situation, such as making sure concealed weapons were not taken to a presidential rally. "It's still a good [law]," Howes said. "We did it right."

Sitting on his front steps Monday at his home in Rogers, Hendrickson kept the holstered handgun under a shirt. His forearms bore two tattoos -- one read "Never Forget 9-11-01," with a drawing of the World Trade Towers, while the other was a series of Chinese letters that he said spelled out "Loyalty -- Educated -- Honesty." After explaining the Sept. 11 tattoo, he quickly added that while there were unanswered questions related to the tragedy he was not "some 9-11 conspiracy theorist wack job."

Hendrickson said he still believed he was following his training when he pepper-sprayed a Cub Foods customer, although he acknowledged it cost him his job and 60 days in jail. He said the woman had parked illegally and was belligerent when he asked her to move, reaching in her car for an unknown object.

He said there had been two other incidents, including a disorderly conduct charge involving a parking lot argument at his son's school and one involving a dispute over a neighbor's dog, in which police were called.

Feeling misunderstood

"Now I'm going to be the guy with the assault record -- the gun-carrying assaulter of people who's outside the Obama rally," Hendrickson said, shaking his head.

"I pride myself on my ethics," he added. "I'm honest and loyal to a fault. I'm the type of guy that you can come to. If you, you know, ask me my honest opinion, you're going to get it."

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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