Show of arms: Open carry gun walk goes off without a hitch
EUREKA SPRINGS -- More than 60 armed citizens slipped into the city under the cover of noon to take advantage of local retailers and restaurants that would permit their entrance and accept their business last Saturday.
A group composed of members of Northwest 746 and Patriots of Act 746 as well as unaffiliated gun rights advocates meet near the train station on a sunny spring morning with the intentions to peruse the downtown shops and enjoy the weather and scenery while brandishing their pistols in holsters on their hips and shoulders.
"We are having a celebration walk for the new law that pasted last August, Act 746," said one of the group's administrators, Tony Asher. "It is just going to be a peaceful walk. We plan on walking for almost a mile as a group, and then we are just going to disperse into the town and everybody is just going to go shopping and eat lunch or whatever they want to do."
Asher has attended three other events like this one in Prairie Grove, Fayetteville and Springdale. He described them as uneventful and said that they were all without incident.
Before the group ascended on to the town, they posed for pictures and were informed to stay safe and respect the tourists and townies alike by Asher and another group administrator, Carl Martin. They were instructed by Asher to not remove their weapons, unless it was in self defense, and to not even grip them in their holsters or rest their hands on them, because it makes people nervous.
"There are only three places in town that have put signs up [to prohibit carrying firearms]," Martin said during the safety brief. "Honor their signs whether it is a legal sign or not. We are not here to cause problems with them. I don't expect any protesters out there, but if there are, do not acknowledge them ... let us get the police and let them handle it."
The police were in attendance as the group gathered and multiple members spoke with them, thanking them for their service and for being there to make sure everything went smoothly.
"Also watch out when you are walking for potholes or anything you can trip over, and watch out when crossing the road," Asher told the group while standing in the bed of a truck. "If somebody confronts you, turn the other way and ignore them. They say we are out here trying to cause problems and get a reaction, that is not what we are here for. Some of them might cause problems and try to get a reaction from us; just don't let it happen."
Later Asher said that none of the people in the group wanted to cause a reaction with law enforcement or to take the issue to court because they like the way the law is at the moment and the members of the groups all have families -- they didn't want to go to jail because they could not afford it.
When the walk began, the group marched in what vaguely resembled a disorganized single-file line to the downtown area. Some were returning to Eureka while others were on their first trip.
"I am out here with my fellow constitutional carries just enjoying the beautiful day and good company," said Tracy Ratliff while walking. "I am not a member of any group. I am just a local girl from Waldron. This is my first time in Eureka Springs; it is very beautiful... I think I am just going to stretch out a bit and find a good place to eat."
After they hit the town, they spread out and interacted with locals and tourists as they window shopped. Cindy Whitt, who was working at the Ozark Mountain Hemp Company, said she that as far as she knew, none of the open carriers had come to her shop, and she really did not notice them.
"I don't agree with the someone walking around with a gun from day to day," said Todd Allen, owner of Blackie's Backyard, about the group. "But I understand their purpose... What concerns me is we have responsible people with training like some in this group, but encouraging people to open carry without training worries me."
Asher, who has a permit to conceal carry, agreed with Allen's sentiments and compared a license to carry a weapon to a driver's license, saying that some people are just not meant to drive and some shouldn't own or carry a gun.
After a short time, the group had completely dispersed into the normal tourist crowd of Eureka Springs, and they were only discernible by the pistols at their side. Mike Rice, Shaun Morgen and Mark Tate had come together from Broken Arrow, Okla., to participate in a friend's wedding and were unaware the walk was happening.
"It doesn't bother me a bit, and I am not a gun owner," Rice said.
"I'd rather not have people open carry," Tate, who is a gun owner, said. "Oklahoma has been doing [open carry] for a while now and I have friends that do it."
As the group meandered about town one man sat stationary with his banjo picking, grinning and witnessing the whole ordeal.
"I heard some tourist lip off to them, but other than that, nothing has happened," said Lance Levi Schrumpf of Siloam Springs. "It is not the people carrying stuff around that cause trouble. It is the people who try to tell others what they can and can't do that cause trouble."
The next day, Police Chief Earl Hyatt said that the event went fine and nothing really happened at all.
"It went smoothly," Hyatt said. "There were people that didn't like that it happened and there were people who liked that it was happening."
Alderman Mickey Schneider was there and used the same words, stating that the event went smoothly and there were no incidents.