Open carry advocates to face protest Saturday


Contra Costa Open Carry, a chapter of the group Responsible Citizens of California, is holding a meeting at a Nation's Giant Hamburgers restaurant on Saturday afternoon, organizer Alany Helmantoler said.

California gun owners can openly carry guns as long as they're unloaded, holstered, and are not carried near schools or government buildings.

The open carry movement, whose members say they aim to inform the public about Second Amendment rights and the importance of self-defense, regularly holds meetings at restaurants around the Bay Area, Helmantoler said.

Saturday's meeting was meant to be low-key, but then Karen Arntzen got a Google Alert about it a couple of weeks ago.

Arntzen works with the Contra Costa County chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that advocates strengthening gun control laws, and said that when she found out about the meeting, she decided to organize people to picket it.

"This is a public health and safety issue, carrying a lethal weapon into a restaurant where children and families are dining," she said. "This is a very misguided attempt to exercise a right that really doesn't make any sense in society today."

Arntzen said she expects about 10 people to gather in protest outside the restaurant.

Helmantoler, a Concord resident who works as a lobbyist, including on gun rights, said she disagrees with Arntzen's opinion of the open carry movement, and the tactics the Brady Campaign uses against it.

"They really need to redirect their resources, and focus on crime and criminal activity instead of worrying about individuals obeying the law like us," she said.

"This is a time when we're reducing public services in California, and there's an increase in crime. This is not the time to worry about individuals who are just trying to protect themselves."

Arntzen criticized the open carry group for organizing a toy drive, claiming they only added that aspect of the meeting once they found out there was going to be a protest.

"I feel it's a phony charitable gesture, and particularly insidious to hide their guns behind Toys for Tots," she said. "Toys and guns don't mix."

However, Helmantoler said there were already plans for a toy drive in early November, and organizers decided to publicize that aspect of the event "when we saw too many people were coming, and with the media."

She said an allied group, Bay Area Open Carry, is also holding a street cleanup event on the same day in San Francisco. That event will take place on the Embarcadero near Pier 43.

"We're not hiding. Most of us, prior to coming into open carry, gave back to the community," she said. "I've been volunteering for my entire life."

The Brady Campaign contacted the Nation's chain of restaurants asking it to ban the guns, but the group has not heard from company officials whether a ban will be instituted, Arntzen said.

She said similar actions in the past have led to bans at Peet's Coffee & Tea, California Pizza Kitchen, Buckhorn Grill, and other businesses. Helmantoler said her group held a rehearsal of sorts at the restaurant on Nov. 14 and had no issues with the guns.

"We're not interested in causing any kind of trouble for anybody, including businesses," she said. "I wish they'd stop harassing these businesses; they don't deserve it."

Helmantoler said she encourages dialogue between the two sides and hoped they can come to some sort of agreement on the issue of open carry. "We have same ideas in mind. We don't want guns in the hands of criminals, guns in the hands of mental patients," she said. "We agree with them on a lot of these concepts."

She said organizers expect around 40 people at the event, which is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Nation's restaurant located at 1900 Contra Costa Blvd. in Pleasant Hill.

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