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Jim Collar: Open-carry advocate stands by actions

6:53 PM, Sep. 23, 2013  |  Comments

One can vehemently disagree with Charles Branstrom, but give the guy some credit for consistency.

It wasn't a publicity stunt, he says, and he hasn't shifted from that position.

Many wonder how a stroll toward the Downtown Appleton Farm Market with a military-styled rifle on his back could amount to anything else.

VIDEO: CHICKEN ENTERS APPLETON GUN DEBATE

"You knew you'd draw a reaction by carrying those guns," I pressed.

"We figured we'd get looks," Branstrom acknowledged, "but we didn't expect that."

Branstrom invited me to a Sunday gathering of open-carry supporters who shared a meal at College Avenue's Cozzy Corner. They meet at least once a month. I accepted. It's tough to get a full sense of folks when news is unfolding. I joined the curious.

The Appleton mechanic was one of two who pushed Appleton square into the gun-rights spotlight in recent weeks by way of their AR-15 rifles.

Three 911 calls came in on Sept. 7 as Branstrom and Ross Bauman made their way east on College Avenue. Police arrived. The men were questioned. They were held and handcuffed. Both were released after officers determined no law was violated.

Gun-rights supporters far and wide cried foul on officers, claiming a violation of rights. Plenty of others had choice words for Branstrom and Bauman.

The weekend brought a second wave. Guns returned to the farmers market Saturday. They were met by a demonstration from those who say there's no place for firearms at family events.

Mark Scheffler of Appleton brought a chicken to make the point. Chickens are safer than guns, he said, and it's the chickens that violate law. As to plan, he and the chicken were asked to leave. Those carrying guns were allowed to stay.

Sunday wasn't so colorful. About 15 folks came by the restaurant. There were no cameras or onlookers. There were more guns in view in the small diner than I counted at the market the day before. The only chicken came fried. Aside from an arsenal, it was much the typical gathering of friends. There was nothing sinister. They talked about guns. They also talked about the Green Bay Packers, television and the outdoors among other topics.

"Why the AR-15s?" I asked.

Branstrom rhetorically asked why a rifle would draw such a heavier reaction than a holstered pistol. He said he was shaken by the police response and bothered some by those who otherwise support gun rights, yet called him to task.

I asked others why they carried.

"Why not?" said Jon Lawrenz of Green Bay, who had a long gun on his back.

He said wouldn't want to have to count on others if his own life was in danger.

Tara O'Neill, also of Green Bay, said she feels safer having a handgun at her side.

They know they can't make people comfortable with guns. They do, though, wonder whether there would be more tolerance if guns were more visible.

They mentioned the Constitution. A right is only a right if it can be freely exercised.

Branstrom said he's typically shy. Although he says he wasn't looking for big publicity, he has aimed for awareness. Long guns can legally be carried and openly. People should know it.

He said he'd like to put his rifle on his back, hop on his motorcycle and head to the range without hassle.

He generated talk. He might well have made strides on awareness. He's cognizant there isn't going to be wide agreement when it comes to AR-15s on Appleton's main thoroughfare. But his view?

"A gun is a gun. I don't think there's a difference."

- Jim Collar: 920-993-1000, ext. 216, or jcollar@postcrescent.com; On Twitter @JimCollar

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