Shopping with guns

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NEW BERLIN, Wis. – There’s some bother near the broccoli.

Anxiety spilled on aisle four.

But the concern is not from customers, who seem fairly oblivious to two armed people moving through their supermarket on this Sunday afternoon.

The tension is from staff, who carefully track the armed duo and a QMI Agency journalist who’s in pursuit.

On Nik Clark’s hip is a jet-black Glock – its full clip bulging like the weightlifter’s arms.

Hugging Kim Garny’s slender hip is a more diminutive – but still formidable – Smith and Wesson .38 Special. And it’s just that, with its soft pink, girly grip, that waves just above her holster.

Neither holds a permit for their loaded guns. But no sirens wail.

Instead, a lone, nervous looking manager of some sort moves in. It’s not the guns he’s concerned about, but rather the Canadian journalist’s camera that’s now shooting up the area.

Once reassured, the manager breathes a sigh of relief, before warning: “Please, just don’t video any of the empty bread shelves. Looks bad.”

The store’s name? Appropriately, Sentry Foods.

In the heart of the suburb of a suburb of Milwaukee, it caters to shoppers exercising their right to be openly armed while buying Coke and all American hotdogs. Just as Starbucks officially welcomes the well armed, in a move that’s dragged the java giant into a civil war between first amendment rights defenders and gun control activists.

Across the U.S., shopping with a displayed weapon – called “open carry” – has become the new Gettysburg of gun debates.  So far, 35 states allow their people to roam openly with guns – few if any strings attached to the triggers – while another 12 allow it through permits.  Backed by whispers of sympathy from the U.S. Supreme Court, gun owners feel it’s time to flex.

There are “open carry picnics,” as well as mass gatherings to test the nation’s mood.  Some estimates say open carry has as many as 30,000 followers.  Not only does it bring some of the 196 million guns in the U.S. out of the closet, but open carry may pressure lawmakers to make carrying a concealed weapon easier.  But Dennis Henigan, a vice president of law and policy for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, contends that even in the days of the Wild West, places like Dodge City had gun controls.

His group – founded by Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, who was wounded during an assassination attempt in 1981 – has become the most vocal opponent to open carry.  “They’re making a statement, that this is a positive thing, so just get used to it,” says Henigan, author of “Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths That Paralyze American Gun Policy.”  “A lot are law abiding citizens, until they pull the trigger.”

Living in a place ranked last year as the 34th Best Small American Town to live in, Nik and Kim say they’ll only draw if their lives, or loved ones, are at risk.  The pair is a poster couple for the cause.  They’re attractive, successful, urban, and bring their guns almost everywhere – though federal laws mean they can enter a bank armed, but not a post office.  “I even play kick ball with it on,” says Kim, a 39-year-old mom who’s a nurse in an emergency room.  “I hope it’s a deterrent,” she says of the message her pink gun gives off to evildoers.

“Criminals watch you, and it sends out a statement.”  Nik’s a 35-year-old real estate consultant, with bright shiny toys in his garage – a boat, motorcycle and truck.  Inside his newer home, there’s no dust. But there are firearms – loaded – that gather on shelves and counters. Look, there’s a tactical shotgun atop the fridge. Even that weapon, Nik assures, could be taken shopping, though police would certainly intervene.  The only thing that draws the eye away from their oily gleam is a shrine Nik has built to the best Kentucky hooch money can buy.

In all, 95 bottles of bourbon are on the wall.  And there’s likely more oversight on each bottle than used on his gun ownership.  The making of the American whiskey is divined through strict law, dictated by the U.S. congress.  But Nik believes the right to bear arms and protect your family is more universal.  “It’s a human right,” he assures. “I believe Canadians have just as much of a right to keep and bear arms for self-defence as I or anyone else does, though the Canadian government may deny that right to you.”

However, some still see its ugly side.

While on this Sunday, shoppers largely ignore the armed pair, recently Kim was grocery shopping when an older women looked her up and down ‹ lingering over the pink grip.  As Kim was walking away, the woman sighed and said: “Such a pretty girl, to be carrying a gun.”

Canadian activists aim to carry in the open

Norman “Griffon” Lapierre has fond memories of walking into an American sandwich shop with a loaded gun.

The Quebec man ordered his sub, then left.  “And it didn’t raise an eyebrow ‹ no more than if I had an iPhone,” he recalls from his home in Saint-Constant, a suburb of Montreal.  Lapierre, a Canadian gun rights advocate, was on a private training course when he walked into the deli with a 40.-calibre Smith and Wesson. He has four permits to carry a weapon in the U.S.  “So the Americans trust me enough, but my own country doesn’t,” he says.

Lapierre, who is involved with a number of gun lobby efforts in Canada (www.canadacarry.org), has little faith this country wants him to stroll into a Tim Hortons with a gun on his belt.  Instead, he’s hoping for a change to allow more Canadians to carry concealed weapons.  His group, the Canadian Association for Self Defence, says only 13 concealed gun permits were allotted in Ontario in 2008.  “You can’t tell me not more than 13 people in Ontario (fear) their life is in danger,” Lapierre, a 54-year-old grandfather and vocational school teacher, argues.

“Up until 1978 in this country, concealed carry did exist … and yet blood didn’t run in the streets.”  Lapierre is apprehensive about the in-your-face optics of “open carry” efforts in the U.S. And he worries about Œgun grabbers’, though he believes hidden weapons can be a deterrent because villains never know who is armed.  Robert Alexander faces few bad-guys as he makes his way outside of Ottawa, into peaceful cottage country. From there, he watches over a site (www.rkba.ca) that promotes the right of Canadians to bear arms.

Single and 58 years old, he fumes at the paperwork, background checks, two licences and even questions on his romantic life needed for him to own a handgun – which he can’t carry with him.  Rather than suggest Canada is so lawless we have to shoot it out to buy a morning paper, Alexander says carrying a gun would show we’re such a peaceful society: “We don’t worry about Joe walking down the street Š with his gun.”  As he hopes debate splashes north across the border, those who’ve traditionally taken tough stands on such issues in Canada seem to be ducking down.  When asked by QMI Agency for their position, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police responded that no one would be available to speak on “open carry.”

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