Stars, bars, and open arms

By RICK WORMWOOD  |  April 28, 2010

The Armed Citizen gave way, retreating to where the open-carriers had set up a barbecue grill. Seeking another argument, McKertich stepped up to Mary Lou Bagley, snarling. Bagley asserted a right to be there, but McKertich informed Bagley that she had to take her sign and weapon to the other side of a no-man’s land that the Portland police were enforcing. Then, an open-carry supporter started snapping McKertich’s picture. The older man lunged at him, but the photographer was too quick.

After calming down slightly, McKertich explained why he was so inflamed. It was the truck with the flags. McKertich said, “He’s got the only flag from this country that fought against the union, and he’s got the Stars and Stripes underneath it. Right away, that’s a very unpatriotic thing and that pisses me off. I was in the Marine Corps; this guy is flying the eagle, globe, and anchor, too. And this (positioning it beneath the Confederate flag) is the way he treats the flag? What kind of a patriot is this?” As for the gun carriers, “I’m asking them, where is your limit? Is it okay to have an Uzi? Is it okay to have a 105 howitzer? Where is their ceiling? And they don’t answer. They want everything. They want to be carrying everything that they want. I object to that. I’m 72 years old, and I’ve never had a problem going anywhere without a gun. What the hell do these people have to carry guns for? What’s their purpose? What’s their point?”

At that moment, the open-carriers’ point seemed to be nothing more than having a picnic. They sipped sodas and mingled. Several heavily armed, beer-bellied men delivered containers of cupcakes. Meat sizzled on the grill. It was as mild and as law-abiding as a church social. One guy had a 1951 Army Jeep with a Browning 1919 .30-caliber machine gun mounted atop it, and admirers continuously took pictures. A picnic attitude prevailed. Tegan Lake, from Auburn, came down to attend with her compound bow, since she didn’t own a gun. Another guy, wearing a cowboy outfit with a shoulder holster and carrying a red, white, and blue Roy Clark Hee-Haw guitar, worked the crowd. The press took pictures and conducted interviews. When an open-carrier’s dog pooped, the poop was picked up; these were law-abiding folks.

Dan Skolnik, the Portland city councilor who organized the counter-demonstration, tried to put a good face on his own sparsely attended event. “We’ve got two sides with really strong opinions. One of them is armed. And we’ve got Portland’s bravest right in the middle of both camps. Democracy at its best.” His explanation for why the open-carriers had more than twice as many supporters: “They have food. Look, the idea is to state the views. And one person stating their views is as valuable as 30 in some situations. It would be cool if we had more people here, but it doesn’t diminish the message.”

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