A group of openly armed gun-rights activists invaded the International Street Fair in uptown Athens on Saturday. Or perhaps “invaded” is overstating the situation.
The several openly armed men – two or three middle-aged or older wearing polo shirts and khaki shorts or jeans and a couple of younger men – strolled down Court Street amid the various international booths and attending crowds. Their grand entrance mainly elicited indifference from international and domestic students alike, as well as from the many Athens area residents who attended the popular annual Street Fair.
The gun activists were carrying pistols and rifles. Here, I’m going to save you from a precise identification of the firearms they were carrying. I don’t know and don’t care, and am guessing you don’t either.
To put it ultra-mildly, this was a case of the actual event not living up to the pre-event hype and alarm. When word spread Friday night and Saturday morning that an “Open-Carry Firearm Education Walk” had been planned to coincide with the Street Fair on Saturday, social media caught fire, with a chorus of local voices condemning the plans and their poor timing.
The basic gist: It’s callous and boorish for a group of out-of-town gun-rights radicals to barge into the middle of the feel-good outdoor event of the year in Athens, the International Street Fair. Aside from the potential for trouble if counter-demonstrators were to show up and challenge the open-carry walkers (always a possibility in Athens), openly carrying firearms among Ohio University’s rainbow of international cultures seemed like a distinctly poor way to say hello.
The Facebook page for the event, moderated by two open-carry activists from Cincinnati, had accomplished what these pages tend to do, whether purposefully or not – make it seem as if the promoted event would be really, really big.
As a result, the social media response was based on conjecture and speculation rather than any realistic idea of how many open-carry walkers would show up. Upon first reading about it, I instantly flashed on various news clips I’ve seen in recent years of groups of heavily-armed, hirsute, tattooed and camoed storm-troopers facing off, sometimes violently, with angry counter-demonstrators. That sort of thing, of course, would not have dovetailed with the traditional bonhomie and amity of the beloved International Street Fair.
One international faculty member at OU, in a Facebook thread Saturday morning about the Open-Carry Walk, expressed an opinion I saw or heard several times before the Street Fair:
“I feel sad for those fellow Americans who think they are free. I wish they can understand what freedom really is. People openly carrying guns is freedom to intimidate others, but not a comfortable feeling for the vast number of people, especially us POCs (people of color).”
The good news is that the actual Open-Carry and Education Walk didn’t deliver the goods. By our count, the event drew five guys with pistols and rifles, and another guy (possibly armed) pulling a wagon carrying two young boys. One of the walkers was the main organizer, Jeffry Smith. If not for the guns, this unassuming group wouldn’t have seemed out of place having a picnic in the park.
Our staffers didn’t follow the group members throughout their time on Court Street and campus, but did interview and photograph them for part of the time. The gun walkers occasionally engaged Street Fair attendees and participants in conversation, and at one point, agreed to be photographed with a small group of curious Japanese students.
Whether these exchanges amounted to “education,” the stated hope of the gun-rights activists, is doubtful. What’s the expected response?
• “Hey, these guys didn’t shoot me; that means they must be right about the Second Amendment being the only one that’s absolute!”
• Or: “I’ve always felt perfectly safe walking around without a gun, either openly or concealed, but now I realize I should be afraid and carry a firearm, the bigger the better.”
• Or: “Wow, you really don’t have to feel like an over-compensating goof-ball while carrying around enough firepower to knock off the biggest bank in town.”
But seriously, rather than prompting discussion or educating anyone, the act of openly carrying potentially deadly firearms in a public place – just because you can – is much more likely to provoke annoyance, disgust, anger and outrage than bring about enlightenment or support.
Bottom line, we should all be grateful that 1) not many of the open-carry walkers showed up; and 2) probably because of Easter, much of the student population had decamped for the weekend. Possibly because of that, OU’s more aggressive student activists failed to make an appearance.
Fortunately, what could have been a terribly negative distraction from a great annual event, the International Street Fair, wound up being a minor wrinkle on the day.
Meanwhile, the question remains – why do some people not only feel compelled to carry around deadly firearms in public, in areas that are not remotely dangerous, but insist that everybody else do so as well?
Most fetishists have the good sense to keep their fixations behind closed doors.