Gun rights advocates holster plans to display weapons at Open Streets block parties

Gun rights activists who follow the Twin Cities Gun Owners and Carry Forum say they’re cancelling plans to bring their guns to Open Streets Minneapolis, a series of community gatherings set to start this weekend.

“It got blown way out of proportion,” said Shelley Leeson, the organizer of the effort, in an interview. “I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to go to a place, where we could have some public interaction, possibly have some conversations with people, just normal social activity, showing that hey, we’re just like you. We live in your neighborhood, we volunteer in your neighborhood, we go to the same events that you do.  And we just happen to be gun owners.”

But Leeson cited threats and harassment, some of it online on the group’s Facebook page, as reason to opt out of the Open Streets events. She said training in Minnesota for people planning to carry firearms in public typically encourages permit holders to avoid conflict as their principal strategy for self-defense.

“People were going to be harassing us and intimidating us,” Leeson said she feared. “It wasn’t our intent to be in your face.”

But her suggestion that gun owners display their weapons, if they normally “open carry,” sparked alarm among some planning to attend the events. The first is this Sunday on Lyndale Avenue, from 22nd Street to 42nd Street, where motorized vehicles will be banned from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Minnesota’s law on carrying firearms in public is often referred to as “concealed carry,” although the law doesn’t require people with firearms to shield their weapon from sight. It is legal to openly display a firearm under certain conditions.

Susan Priem, an organizer with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said the idea of seeing armed people at the event drew a strong reaction from some potential participants. She noted that the ostensible purpose of the event is to promote human-powered transportation, and this year is focusing on “healthy play” for kids and healthy eating.

Priem said that she considered the gun debate a side issue. She also says she expects over 10,000 people to attend the event, and that people with firearms weren’t likely to be prominent. “This is just a handful of people. Maybe a dozen, maybe two dozen,” Priem says. “This wasn’t a real big issue to us.”

And she pointed out that there are people present with firearms at all kinds of events: “You know what, gun owners are among us every single day. There is conceal and carry going on every single day. There’s probably open carrying going on every day. And it’s really the normal course of the day. We just hope people will come and enjoy this fun family event.”