Guest Commentary

Gun-rights activist: We're not just fighting for firearms; we're fighting for our freedom

On July 29, some bills that passed the state Legislature and were signed by the governor became law. Included in these was SB 1070. Of course, there was a SB 1070-related protest, and counter-protest, downtown.

I like a good protest as much as anyone, but I had a celebration—of other laws going into effect—to attend elsewhere.

As I walked through Himmel Park, I ran into a friend. We chatted briefly, and I continued on my way. If my friend noticed the Glock model 21 pistol worn openly on my belt, he made no mention.

I soon came to a grove of trees near Treat Avenue, where 40 or so men and women were enjoying an all-American cookout with hamburgers and hot dogs—the works! Most were similarly armed.

I knew I had found the "Take Your Pistol for a Walk in the Park" party that I sought.

I saw the host of the party, liberty activist Ken Rineer, refilling the grills with dogs and burgers to keep up with the demand. It was in October 1996 that he met with Libertarian lawyer Ed Kahn and Tucson Police Department officers to have himself arrested. The purpose of the arrest was to create a case to challenge a recently enacted city ordinance that prohibited firearms in city parks—thus making the parks all the more attractive to robbers, rapists and the like.

Ken was recruited by Brassroots, a civil-rights organization that specializes in firearms issues, to risk heavy fines and jail time to take the city to court. The law was clearly on Ken's side. The state of Arizona has a pre-emption statute that limits certain authority to the state government, including laws regarding firearms. Alas, courts being as they are in these modern times, Ken lost after the city appealed his initial victory, and the Arizona Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

OK, I know that many of you are thinking, "What the heck is it with these gun nuts? Is it so important that they have their guns in the park?" First, let me point out that many of my fellow party guests are not, in fact, "gun nuts," or even enthusiasts. In fact, were you to ask Ken why there are as many as three different twist rates in AR-15 rifles, I doubt he could tell you.

The firearms issue lends focus to the greater issue of liberty, which is the issue we all hold in common. It is true that you could say that possessing a gun in the park is not in itself all that important, just as you could say that where you sit on the bus is not all that important—but only if you were ignorant of the greater issue at hand.

Activism goes on. When it became fashionable to post "no firearms" signs in the windows of businesses, Brassroots was there to point out that while it is certainly the right of a business to ban guns from the premises, in doing so, those businesses would lose a large block of customers. Most, realizing that customers are more important than fashion, came around pretty quickly. Phil Murphy, a past president of Brassroots, recalled addressing the issue with a specialty retailer that sold erotic paraphernalia and clothing. Exotic dancers, who shop there for clothing, were made particularly vulnerable during their late-night shopping and were ready to make noise about it. This situation was presented to the store's manager, who contacted the home office, and within 40 hours, the signs came down.

Charles Heller—a radio personality, the secretary of Arizona Citizens Defense League (AZCDL) and an all-round good guy—spoke of the accomplishments in which the AZCDL ( played a crucial role. Though it was an impressive list, the most relevant to today's celebration was the state legislation that strengthened the pre-emption statute regarding guns and knives, and legislation authorizing "constitutional carry," meaning that you could carry your weapon discreetly or otherwise without a permission slip from the government, as the United States Constitution and Arizona Constitution guarantee.

It is not often that liberty activists have cause to celebrate, or that Ken, Phil, Charles and others actually see positive outcomes resulting from their efforts. Yet on July 29, while political theater raged downtown, men and women peacefully celebrated in the park, and remembered a 14-year-long struggle.

About The Author

Jonathan Hoffman

Jonathan Hoffman moved to Tucson from Connecticut in 1977 and never looked back. He attended the UA, ran for City Council Ward III in 2001, and made regular contributions to the Guest Commentary section of the Tucson Weekly for over five years. He helped launch the Southern Arizona News Examiner. He is a former...
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