ATHENS – The timing couldn’t have been worse. A group of open-carry advocates came to Athens last weekend to exercise their rights by sauntering around uptown with firearms slung over their shoulders and strapped to their hips.
OK. So it goes. This is well within the law. If somebody wants to play at Wyatt Earp and walk around with six-shooters on each hip for all the world to see, well, he can.
Personally, I think it’d be fun to do so with bandoliers criss-crossing the chest, Pancho Villa-style, the absurdity of the action thus nicely highlighted.
But here’s the thing: These open-carry advocates decided to make their statement during the Ohio University International Street Fest, a wonderful annual celebration of the cultures of the globe.
The International Street Fest caps off International Week at Ohio University. Celebrated since 1979, the festival brings together OU student organizations and community members to celebrate global diversity on Court Street.
Organizations set up booths with cultural displays, free interactive cultural activities for kids, and food from around the world. Court Street smells amazing, with exotic grilled goods at every turn. Onstage, international dancers celebrate their cultures. Musicians treat attendees to a wide variety of displays of international heritage.
From The Athens NEWS:
A small group of pro-gun Ohioans staged an “open-carry/firearm education walk” through uptown Athens early Saturday afternoon at the same time and general location as the annual International Street Fair.
While news of the planned walk sparked substantial anger and consternation on social media Friday evening and Saturday morning, the visibly armed open-carry group, with five armed participants (and one pulling a wagon containing two children), walked through the crowded Street Fair with minimal incident and no reported disruptions or counter-protests.
As far as it goes, I saw no confrontation and only conversation. But what I felt watching this handful of open-carry advocates meander about at the International Street Fest was embarrassment.
Here we had a wide cross-section of international people celebrating their diversity, showing off their food, showing off their wares, showing off their dancing, showing off their music.
And in what way was America represented? Five middle-age white guys showing off their guns.
In a way, it’s fitting. American culture tends toward an inexplicable fascination with weaponry and militarism, most especially among thick-necked, pot-bellied, red-faced, over-the-hill, suburban dad types. It’s the American version of the Colonel Blimp character – BarcaLounger Blimps, let’s say.
And these guys couldn’t have been more of a cliché if they tried: Cowboy hat, khaki shorts, polo shirt, white tube socks pulled halfway up to their knees, and a bullpup rifle slung over the shoulder, handgun on the hip. They wore orange “Guns Save Lives” stickers. One guy was wearing a bucket hat, suspenders, and a button-down with American flags all over it.
Obviously, this being the case, they don’t cut a particularly intimidating image. They put one in mind of that dorky uncle we all have who also happens to love guns.
It did make me think, though, about how that dorky-suburbanite image saves their lives from death-by-cop.
Ohio is an open-carry state, but that didn’t save the life of John Crawford III when he was carrying a pellet rifle he got from the shelf at Walmart in Beavercreek. It didn’t save Tamir Rice, with his Airsoft BB gun at the Cudell rec. center in Cleveland.
It made me wonder how people might react if Black Lives Matter protestors exercised their Second Amendment rights to open-carry in Ohio during demonstrations. It made me remember that many gun-control laws were put in place because the Black Panthers tried exactly that.
I’m an avid target-shooting enthusiast. And as an American history buff, when I was a kid, I loved to play at Old West. So it’s not lost on me that Dodge City circa 1870 had more stringent open-carry laws than Ohio does in 2017.
But somehow I’ve never much cared for the idea of walking around openly strapped, even with double cross-draw holsters like Doc Holiday.
So as I sat there last weekend, enjoying a döner kebab sandwich, considering the beauty of the Persian folk dance, I watched these open-carry advocates stroll by and I didn’t feel anger and I didn’t object.
I just felt sad and embarrassed, because amongst this wonderful celebration of international diversity these gun advocates truly did represent a certain element of American culture with distressing accuracy.
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.