Stars, bars, and open arms

By RICK WORMWOOD  |  April 28, 2010

Was he disappointed that more women weren’t partaking of their right to openly carry firearms that day? “I think all women should learn how to defend themselves. Women are targets. Not all women, you can’t say that, but a lot of women are targets. They allow themselves to be victims, and just the showing of a firearm can sometimes defuse a situation that could be terrible for any person.” Then he added, in complete seriousness, “Men can get raped, too, right?”

Unable to respond, I just thanked him for his time and moved away, awkwardly.

A few armed women had begun to arrive. Mary Lou Bagley was from Portland. Her blue and white tracksuit was accessorized by a .38 in a shoulder holster, the revolver a Valentine’s present from her husband of 24 years. Her sign said STAND UP FOR THE CONSTITUTION. Bagley claimed that all good citizens “have to uphold the Constitution, not only on the Second Amendment, but also on an over-reaching government that’s grasping our rights little by little, one by one. We have to be vigilant. We have to speak out and take a stand.”

Then Walter McKertich, who was protesting open-carry, got angry. A tall, 72-year-old man wearing big sunglasses, McKertich’s moustache makes him look like Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee (excelsior!). He was listening to a stocky, armed citizen with a shaved head heatedly explain how he had been an Air Force radar technician when JFK was shot (the second reference to JFK’s assassination in minutes; there was also a guy in the crowd wearing a Ted Kennedy’s Car Has Killed More People Than My Gun T-shirt), but McKertich was so loud and dismissive that he seemed to be seeking a physical confrontation. Soon, both men were shouting, gesticulating, and rolling their eyes. A Portland police officer asked to speak with McKertich just before the words got too hot. That seemed to be it, but then, minutes later, McKertich was back, frothing at a different gun owner, angrily demanding a dialogue. The exchange went like this:

McKertich: “How much is enough? What’s the limit? Nuclear weapons?”

Armed Citizen: “I already seen you argue with the other guy, so I’m not going to argue with you.”

McKertich: “You can’t back it up. I’m asking you a question. You can’t answer my question.”

Armed Citizen: “I don’t want to answer it.”

McKertich: “Where’s the limit? Do you have any limits at all?”

Armed Citizen: “I’m pissing you off so bad, how do I know there ain’t a gun under there. You might blow my head off.”

McKertich: “What a fucking joke you are.”

Armed Citizen: “What are you doing? How do I know there ain’t something underneath your fucking coat right now?”

McKertich: “How do you know I won’t pull it out and just blow your fucking head off?” (This was a little scary. McKertich had a convincing case of the crazy eyes. He was looking and acting like someone who wouldn’t mind being shot, especially if getting shot would help prove the point he was trying to make.)

Armed Citizen: “Well. There’s threatening right there, ain’t it? Didn’t you just threaten me?”

McKertich (yelling): “You’re threatening me.”

Armed Citizen: “I ain’t.”

McKertich (still yelling): I’m afraid of you.”

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