Firearms fans invited to carry loaded guns at Onalaska cookout - Coulee News
Firearms fans invited to carry loaded guns at Onalaska cookout
A Sunday picnic in the town of Onalaska where participants will be carrying loaded firearms will not be treated any differently than any other gathering, according to La Crosse County Sheriff Steve Helgeson.
“It (the picnic) is not going to make that much of a difference for us,” Helgeson said. “It’s probably more of an educational issue for the surrounding neighborhood — I’m expecting concerns and questions from neighbors on the day of the picnic.”
The picnic is going to be held at Marvin Gardens Park from 11 to 3:30 p.m. Hubert Hoffman, the event’s organizer, said he’s holding the picnic in celebration of the recent memo from Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen affirming the legality of openly carrying a firearm.
According to Hoffman, the purpose of the event will be both social and educational. “I organized this so that people who open carry could get together, get to know one another and realize they’re not alone,” he said. “I also want the public to see that we’re not criminals.”
Participants have been instructed (per state law) to transport their firearms unloaded and encased to the picnic site.
“Once they have parked their vehicle, they will remove the encased weapon, load their holster firearm (no long guns will be allowed) and then go about the picnic,” Hoffman said.
Although flyers have been posted at every rod and gun club and sporting goods store within a 100-mile radius, Hoffman said he does not know for sure how many gun owners will attend. “We will have seating for 60 at a time,” he said. “I’m expecting about 50 or so, but if 300 show up, that will make my day.”
Hoffman is footing the bill for all the food — brats, hot dogs, hamburgers, soda and Kool-aid (no alcohol will be allowed).
“I’m planning on having enough food for 300,” Hoffman said. “I’ve got a big family so it is not going to go to waste if there’s any left over.” He added that anyone is welcome to bring a dish to pass.
Helgeson said that because La Crosse County has more rural area than some other counties and has plenty of hunters, Van Hollen’s memo has not changed the way his officers enforce the law.
“As far as someone with a firearm, we’ll handle it the way we always have,” Helgeson said. “The way we dealt with it in the past is exactly the way the memo states you should deal with it.”
Other area police departments affirm that nothing has changed in the way they approach parties openly carrying firearms. Van Hollen’s memo emphasizes that carrying a gun is not to be considered disorderly conduct. But anyone carrying a firearm openly should expect the likelihood that someone will call the police and ask them to investigate, officials say.
“It can’t be just the gun itself (in a disorderly conduct charge),” said Onalaska Police Chief Jeff Trotnic. “It has to be the gun plus whatever the gesture or action might be.”
“I told my staff ‘We have to treat every situation with common sense and reasonableness,” said West Salem Police Chief Charles Ashbeck. “If someone’s out walking his dog you wouldn’t want to come up with lights flashing and put him on the ground. However, if he cuts through a school parking lot, that would be a different matter.”
State law bans openly carried firearms within 1,000 feet of a school, and they aren’t allowed in government buildings or bars.
Trotnic said he doesn’t think there’s going to be a lot of people openly carrying guns. “I don’t think we’re going to run into too many individuals doing that,” he said. “As a police chief I can tell you that I wouldn’t want to see a lot of it, because it generates fear and extra calls.”
Hoffman said the open carry picnic would be the first of its kind on this side of the state, but there have been similar events all across the country and others are being scheduled in Wisconsin cities.
He said one reason Marvin Gardens Park was picked for the affair is that La Crosse County has an ordinance prohibiting firearms in county parks. “We feel that ordinance is pre-empted by state law that bans local municipalities having stricter laws than the state, but the town of Onalaska does not have a firearms in the park ordinance,” Hoffman said.
The picnic is free, but donations will be accepted for Wisconsin Badger Camp for people with disabilities.
“I have a disabled son who’s attended Badger Camp in the past, and I know it’s a good organization,” Hoffman said.