MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
People in Charlottesville, Virginia, are still buzzing about a recent gun scare. This past weekend, a young man walked into a supermarket with a loaded rifle, an AR-15. Shoppers called 911, police rushed to the store but made no arrest. Reporter Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF has more on what some are calling a dangerous stunt.
SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: It was 5 p.m. Sunday and Bob Girard, who makes T-shirts, was on his way home from work. He had a craving for ice cream. But when he stopped at his neighborhood grocery store, he got a shock. A 22-year-old man wearing a baseball cap and a blue jacket was strolling through Kroger with a rifle slung from his shoulder.
BOB GIRARD: People saw the gun. It was pretty easy to spot. He wasn't concealing it. It was right out in the open, and he created a reaction in the store.
HAUSMAN: Some customers bolted for the door. Others grabbed their cell phones and called 911. Lieutenant Ronnie Roberts, a 30-year veteran of the Charlottesville police force, says eight officers went to the scene, ordered the man to drop his gun and searched him.
LIEUTENANT RONNIE ROBERTS: There was a note that was discovered during the investigative detention that reflected that he was exercising his First and Second Amendment rights.
HAUSMAN: In other words, the guy wanted to make a point, that the law allowed him to carry a loaded weapon, and he had a right to show his support for the Second Amendment by bringing his gun to a grocery store. The cops were not impressed.
ROBERTS: What was the necessity of carrying it in there and alarming, you know, mothers, fathers and their children? And it alarmed us. I mean, it alarms law enforcement.
HAUSMAN: But Steve Sellers, the chief of police for rural Albemarle County, surrounding the city, was unfazed.
POLICE CHIEF STEVE SELLERS: Unconcealed weapons have been permitted in the state of Virginia. So wearing it out in the open in the rural parts of the state, that's pretty common to see somebody wearing a gun.
HAUSMAN: In 44 states, people are allowed to openly carry weapons in certain public places. Virginia gets a gold star from the advocacy group opencarry.org, which considers it wholesome to wear a properly holstered gun. John Pierce founded the group.
JOHN PIERCE: By not having people carry openly, but by forcing them to conceal their firearm, we're treating them as somehow unwholesome. We're treating gun owners like some kind of a criminal. What the open carry movement is trying to do is to normalize the presence of firearms in daily life.
HAUSMAN: It's not clear whether the man at the grocery store was on a mission to achieve that goal. And since no charges were filed, police will not give his name. But Bob Girard hopes the state legislature will take another look at its open-carry law.
GIRARD: If this person can walk into the Kroger in Charlottesville with a loaded weapon, can he walk into the store where the governor is shopping or where the attorney general is shopping?
HAUSMAN: In the meantime, John Pierce of opencarry.org expects more incidents of this kind.
PIERCE: I think what we're seeing there is some spontaneous reactions by gun owners to what they see as a constant attack by the media and by politicians on what they see as their fundamental rights.
HAUSMAN: Kroger has banned the man with a rifle from its premises and has posted an armed guard at the door. But the chain will not prohibit loaded guns in all of its stores. For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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