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Gun rights protest triggers controversy

Two men break no laws by carrying assault rifles in plain sight down Powell Boulevard


Gresham residents, including many who support the right to bear arms, question the tactics of a local man who walked the streets of downtown Gresham with a rifle slung over his shoulder as a political protest.

Steven M. Boyce, 22, of Gresham, and Warren R. Drouin, 22, of Medford are part of the open carry movement, which advocates the right to openly carry properly holstered handguns in every day life. Last week, they were seen openly carrying rifles, including an AR-15, while walking along Gresham's Main Avenue and in Portland's Sellwood neighborhood.Jazzy Bagels employee Meghan Browne took this picture of Steven M. Boyce, right, and Warren R. Drouin, carrying assault rifles through downtown Gresham on Wednesday, Jan. 9.

Their actions sparked an onslaught of 9-1-1 calls from people who have a heightened awareness of firearms and the danger they may pose in the wake of last month's fatal shooting at Clackamas Town Center and the massacre of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut grade school, said Lieutenant Claudio Grandjean, Gresham police spokesman.

The shootings have triggered growing debate about whether some weapons, such as the semi-automatic rifles, should be banned or otherwise regulated.

The two men told police they were demonstrating their second amendment rights and hoped to educate the public, said Sgt. Pete Simpson, Portland police spokesman. During both incidents in Gresham and Portland on Wednesday, Jan. 9, they kept their weapons slung over their shoulders and did not threaten anyone.

One carried an AR-15 and the other carried a weapon similar to a long gun, Simpson said. One of the men also carried a handgun on his belt.

And their actions are perfectly legal, police say.

Gresham has no prohibition against people openly carrying weapons. Portland has a more restrictive ordinance that prohibits such action unless the person has a license to carry a concealed weapon, which both Boyce and Drouin do.

“Officers explained to the men that they would likely continue to generate 9-1-1 calls from an alarmed public, which would require a police response,” Simpson said. That response could also tie up officers who otherwise could respond to real emergencies, he added.

“But neither seemed interested in these concerns,” Simpson said.

That's no surprise to Grandjean.by: FILE PHOTO - Gresham Leiutenant Claudio Grandjean said that although their actions were legal, they were not necessarily wise. 'Just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean you should,' he said.

“We have encountered these knuckleheads before,” he said, referring to similar second-amendment protesters. “They have cameras and post their interactions with police on YouTube.”

But last week's incident was unique because second-amendment protesters usually openly carry handguns, not rifles, he said.

John Pierce, co-founder and spokesman for the Virginia-based organization OpenCarry.org, said in an email to the Outlook that his organization “promotes the right to openly carry properly holstered handguns in daily American life.”

It's motto is “A right unexercised is a right lost.”

However, rules on the website's forum state, “We do NOT promote the carry of long guns."

Even so, Pierce wouldn't go as far as to say he opposed how Boyce and Drouin staged their protests. He admitted that their actions make people uncomfortable.

“So in that regard, the police are having to respond,” but their actions also are within the limits of the law, Pierce said.

“We only actively promote the legal and responsible open carry of handguns,” Pierce said. “However, there is a marked difference between not promoting and condemning.”

Boyce told the media in an interview outside his home on Southeast Salquist Road that he usually carries a handgun, but he and his friend decided to bring assault rifles “just because we can.”

They were not threatening, running or causing any harm, he said.

As for tying up police resources, part of the protest's aim is to have police respond, so officers and the general public don't assume that anyone with a gun is dangerous.

Grandjean said police are specially trained in how to handle open carry protesters, adding that a less skilled officer many confuse them with a real threat and over-react.

“We have to address this issue very carefully,” he said. “When we're sworn in as police officers, we take an oath to protect people's rights and we take that seriously. And those rights include the right to bear arms. But we also have a duty to protect people from undue alarm.”

And alarm is exactly what the men caused those who saw them.

Three people in Gresham called 9-1-1 between 12:20 p.m. and 12:35 p.m. to report armed men on Powell Boulevard at Main, Hood and Roberts avenues. Seven people in Sellwood called police to report them, and one school went into lock-down.

“Of course people are going to call 9-1-1, with the timing and the kind of weapons they had,” Grandjean said. “There is no indication of them doing anything threatening, but in the environment we're in, that was threatening enough.”

Gresham residents seem to agree.

Meghan Browne was working the counter at Jazzy Bagel at Main and Powell on Wednesday when she glanced out the window overlooking Powell and saw the armed men. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Meghan Browne said the sight of two armed men outside Jazzy Bagels where she works freaked out staff and customers.

“We freaked out at first,” she said. Eventually, a customer left her two children inside and went out to ask the men if their weapons were real. They were, but they also explained why they were carrying the guns.

“They were just making a point, pretty much,” Browne said. And she gets that, but "it's inappropriate I think to be around civilians with that sort of weapon,” she said.

Co-worker Amanda Moore is a gun owner and agreed with Browne.

“It's OK, you can do it, you have the right,” she said. “It just isn't smart. It's scary. It just makes us gun-owners look bad."

Ralph Mowatt, a Gresham-based National Rifle Association training counselor, said such a “show of strength today is ridiculous,” adding that weapons should be kept concealed. “These people who are open carrying are just fueling the fire. ... It's not helping the situation at all in any way. ... You see a young man with a rifle over his shoulder, that's kind of scary because we don't know his intention."

Mowatt also pointed out that the area they chose in Gresham for their protest has a particularly sad history.

Nearly three years ago, an off-duty Clackamas County Sheriff's deputy gunned down his wife and her two friends at the M&M Lounge just a block away from the bagel shop. Two months before that shooting, two men were seriously injured when a man opened fire on a poker room that shared a parking lot with the bagel shop.

“So who do we trust and where do we go?” Mowatt asked. “It really is a sad state of affairs we're in. But hopefully we get it all sorted out.”




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