Protesters and picket signs may have been missing from South Bay Open Carry's re-located monthly Third Thursday meeting in February, but the topic hasn't left the city of Manhattan Beach.
At the Tuesday, March 1 City Council meeting, Esther Besbris of the Manhattan Beach Residents Association waited until 2 a.m to stand at the podium to ask that council address the group's presence in the city in its council 2011-2012 work plan.
Earlier in the evening, before trash talk took over, resident Maggie Movius asked that council look into creating and passing an ordinance that would make the open carry of unloaded weapons illegal in city parks. She said that Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach have such laws.
The local gun-rights advocacy group, South Bay Open Carry, surfaced in September when they announced plans to attend the 38th Annual Manhattan Beach Hometown Fair. The group attended the October 2010 fair, with weapons openly carried, causing quite a stir before, during and after the event.
On Thursday, Feb. 17 the group held its Third Thursday monthly meeting at China Grill in Manhattan Beach, after protesters showed up at their January meeting at Brooklyn Brick Oven Pizza. This time the protesters didn't picket outside the restaurant located in the Manhattan Village shopping center.
Suzanne Verge, president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence who organized the January protest, said the group had gotten another Manhattan Beach restaurant, Big Wok Mongolian BBQ, to not host the group's February meeting and believed that the same had happened after speaking with China Grill owner Fernando Chong prior to the group's monthly dinner event.
“We called Fernando. He said he was going to cancel the reservation, but he called [South Bay Open Carry] and they didn’t answer, but I still thought he would do the right thing and say, ‘You can come in and not bring your guns.’”
Chong told Patch that he learned about the group’s reservation for 40 people at the last minute after it had already been made with an assistant manager. After hearing from Verge’s husband the night before, he decided he didn’t need the bad publicity he might get from hosting the Open Carry group.
“I’m just a businessman. In this frail economy, I didn’t want any protests,” he told Patch.
But when the members showed up, Chong relented and seated them in the patio. “They promised they would keep it as hush-hush as possible and wouldn’t create problems.”
Some of the members brought children and some had jackets over their guns, while others wore guns openly on their hips, he said. “Of course it bothered me,” Chong said. “That was the first time I had seen anything like that.”
Ironically, Chong is a Jehovah’s Witness and is apolitical. “Because of our religion, we don’t vote, salute the flag or participate in war.”
The South Bay Open Carry website, http://southbayopencarry.org/, called the dinner “a tremendous success,” stating that it attracted about 60 people and characterizing the Brady Organization’s attempts to persuade Chong not to allow the group to gather there as “an aggressive yet unsuccessful effort to frighten the restaurant owner into canceling our reservation” and “reprehensible and unworthy of a group with federal nonprofit status,” while adding that South Bay Open Carry did “respect the U.S. Constitution and their First Amendment right to free speech.”
Verge said her organization is not trying to hurt anyone’s business, but it feels that restaurants often are unaware that they have the right to say no to a group if they don’t want to host them, just as they can turn away customers dressed or behaving inappropriately.
“Even Fernando didn’t know that 60 people were coming in with guns on. I don’t think [South Bay Open Carry] does a good job of informing the restaurant of the reality that 40 to 60 people will be showing up with weapons on their hips, with ammunition that apparently can be loaded in two seconds.”
Verge, whose 18-year-old brother was shot and killed by someone he knew when Verge was only 15, said she feels the public has a right to know when a place is serving people who are openly carrying guns.
The California Brady Campaign publishes a list http://www.bradycampaign.org/chapters/ca/ of what it calls “Family Friendly Restaurants and Businesses” that have established gun-free policies and a second list labeled “Name & Shame – Socially Irresponsible Businesses” that have allowed members of open carry organizations to dine with pistols holstered in their belts.
South Bay Open Carry founder and president Harley Green said that one of his group’s objectives is to change the negative stereotypes of gun ownership by displaying their weapons openly. “When we go out in public and people see law-abiding citizens wearing firearms, the reaction I get is overwhelming interest and excitement,” he said.
But why openly carry firearms in such a relatively low-crime area as Manhattan Beach and other South Bay cities?
Green, a 25-year-old Hermosa Beach resident and a computer engineer at Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo, said that even if there’s less crime here than in other places, crimes do occur, and when they do, he wants to be prepared—and so might others.
“How awful would I feel if I’m at a restaurant with my wife and I happen to leave my firearm at home and some criminal starts shooting and there’s no police around?” The benefit of openly carrying a gun is a visible deterrent, he said.
Carrying firearms in California, as long as they’re not concealed, loaded or in restricted areas (near schools, post offices or government buildings) is generally permitted, although cities and counties can restrict open carry in parks and other areas.
A new bill to end the practice of openly carrying firearms in California was introduced in the California Assembly in January. AB 144 would replace a similar bill that died without a final vote last fall, helped to its demise by vigorous gun-rights advocates.
Many members of South Bay Open Carry, which Green told Patch has a mailing list of about 300, live and work in the South Bay and intend to continue holding their monthly dinner meetings in the local restaurants they like to frequent, Green said.
Their March meeting will take place at an unnamed location on the Palos Verdes Peninsula Green told Patch. Green won’t reveal the location until the week of the event because “we want to do our best to shield hard-working businesses from (the Brady Campaign’s) harassment.”
It’s not harassment, Verge said, to inform businesses that their customers may arrive wearing guns in their belts.
When delivered to Big Wok Mongolian BBQ owner Pendar Hsu that message proved effective in persuading him not to welcome the South Bay group for dinner on Feb. 17.
After receiving calls and letters from both sides, Hsu made his decision. “This is a family restaurant. We really don’t think it’s appropriate to bring in guns. I think it might scare my customers.”