By Bill Vidonic, Times Staff
Published: Saturday, September 6, 2008 11:52 PM EDT
John Noble said he’s openly worn a handgun while attending the annual Maple Syrup Festival in Bradys Run Park.
He’s worn it to a Bridgewater book signing.
The Industry man said he’s never been confronted by police over his habit of wearing a holstered pistol on his waist — that is until Aug. 29.
Noble’s arrest at the Barack Obama campaign rally at Beaver’s Irvine Park has raised questions about gun rights.
“There was no disturbance until (law enforcement) made one,” Noble said.
Beaver County District Attorney Anthony Berosh said the issue isn’t whether Noble was legally carrying a gun. State police said Noble did not violate the state’s open carry law, under which you don’t need a permit to carry a weapon in plain sight.
Instead, Berosh said, it’s a battle between two constitutional rights: The right to bear arms and the right to assemble peaceably and without fear.
“No constitutional right pre-empts the other,” Berosh said.
Berosh said Noble did not have the right to alarm anyone around him attending the Barack Obama rally in Irvine Park.
While Noble’s intentions might not have been sinister, Berosh said, “The people who don’t know him don’t know that.”
Noble’s arrest at the Obama rally has set off controversy. Gun right advocates say Noble’s rights were stepped on, while others say Noble should have known better than to take a gun to a presidential campaign rally.
Noble said he had no ill intent and that Obama’s constitutional rights didn’t take precedence over his.
Noble was standing in McIntosh Park, next to Irvine Park, when people noticed that he was packing a gun in a holster and notified sheriff’s deputies.
After a brief confrontation Noble was taken into custody, and his gun, a Glock 9mm, was confiscated. He was questioned by state police and released.
Deputies and state police have said Noble did not threaten anyone with the gun, and it remained in his holster until it was confiscated. The gun hasn’t been returned yet.
On Friday, state police charged Noble with one count each of disorderly conduct and disrupting meetings and processions.
State police wrote in a criminal complaint that they think Noble intended to disrupt the rally, because he posted a message on a Web site just before the rally telling people to “bring their guns and Bibles.”
State police said Noble put others around him in fear for their safety and that law enforcement agents had to abandon their posts at the Obama rally to deal with Noble.
State police did say that Noble did not illegally possess his weapon.
Federal authorities said they would not file charges against Noble because he did not enter Irvine Park. To do so, he would have had to pass through a metal detector.
THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS
Beaver County Sheriff George David said a person who is wearing a gun in a holster, out in the open, doesn’t need a license to carry that weapon.
However, a person who wants to keep a weapon concealed on his body or carry it in a vehicle must obtain a license. Extra permission is necessary for a concealed weapon, David said, because a concealed weapon poses a greater danger to police.
A weapon is considered concealed if it’s worn under clothing or kept in a vehicle.
While David said he’s a gun advocate, he said Noble should not have taken the gun to the rally because of all the security present for Obama’s protection.
“I don’t think this was the time or the place to show your rights,” David said.
Noble’s case is not unique, however.
According to published reports, a Louisiana man last month received a monetary settlement for his January 2006 arrest at a Baton Rouge shopping mall.
In the incident, a police officer approached Mark Marchiafava, 55, of Baton Rouge, and asked why he was openly wearing a holstered weapon in a mall. Marchiafava replied that because he wasn’t a felon, he could legally carry a weapon in the open.
The officer took Marchiafava into custody and charged him with a count of illegal gun possession.
The charge was later dropped, and Marchiafava’s weapon was returned, but he sued the police department, claiming a violation of his civil rights. The terms of the settlement with the department have been sealed.
Noble’s case has already been heavily discussed on Web sites dedicated to gun rights.
Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of OpenCarry.org, said Friday, “John Noble was arrested for engaging in peaceful, constitutionally protected conduct in a park open to the public, i.e., passing out fliers while carrying a handgun in a secure holster. Noble was not intoxicated, fighting, cursing, or making loud noises.”
He also said, “Pennsylvania courts have repeatedly said that ‘the offense of disorderly conduct is not intended as catchall for every act which annoys or disturbs people,’ but the police in Noble’s case blatantly ignored the law and turned Pennsylvania’s disorderly conduct statute into a license to grab people off the street at will.”
Berosh said, “You have a right to strike a match, unless you’re in a TNT factory.”
Berosh also said it’s unfortunate that there’s “historical precedent” of violence at political rallies and presidential appearances, including the shootings of John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
In the charges filed against Noble, state police trooper Shawn Schexnaildre wrote that if witness John Atkinson hadn’t been alarmed by Noble, Atkinson wouldn’t have notified nearby officers.
“This may be due to the fact that a political assassination is as devastating as any crime that can be committed and is nearly always committed with a gun. Either way, (Noble’s) actions, without question, created a public alarm,” Schexnaildre wrote.
Bill Vidonic can be reached online at email@example.com
WHEN DO YOU NEED A LICENSE?
In Pennsylvania, only those who wish to carry a concealed weapon must obtain a license.
Statute 18 P.C.S, 6106 defines when a person is breaking the law: Any person who carries a firearm in any vehicle or any person who carries a firearm concealed on or about his person, except in his place of abode or fixed place of business, without a valid and lawfully issued license under this chapter commits a felony of the third degree.
The punishment for the offense would depend on what a person’s prior criminal record is.
Source: Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.
MAP OF SCENE
To see a map of the scene of Noble’s arrest, created by members of PAOpenCarry.org, go to http://paopencarry.org/beaver/map.jpg
(State police and the Beaver County sheriff’s department have not commented on the accuracy of the map.)