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Man arrested for gun explains himself
In Thursday's issue of The Andalusia Star-News, you reported a story of a man who was arrested at Wal-Mart for carrying a pistol in the store. I am the man who was arrested at that time and wish to submit to you my version of the story and some thoughts and concerns about what in fact happened from my perspective.
When people find out that I carry a gun for self defense, I am always posed with the question of "Why?" I tend to use metaphors when trying to explain my reasoning behind carrying a pistol. I carry a gun for the same reason I wear a seatbelt, have health insurance and lock my doors at night when I go to bed. I do not leave my home expecting to have a car accident or become ill, just as I do not leave everyday expecting to have to defend myself with my sidearm. I do however believe in preparing for the worst.
Any and every parent would tell you that one of the biggest fears they have is something terrible happening to their children, and I believe that my parents feel this same way. Not unlike wearing a seatbelt in the case of a car accident, I carry a gun to insure that if I come into contact with a threat to my life, I can have some hope of defending myself. The last thing I want is for my mother and father to have to bury their son because some drug addict decided his wallet was worth more than his life.
The events that took place on the morning of 9 May 2007 are what I believe to be the result of misinformation, miscommunication, and just plain confusion. The best way to explain my perspective on what happened, I believe, is to tell my entire story:
I entered Wal-Mart Wednesday afternoon in search of a summer job to help out my mother while I am home from college for the summer. As you may well know, summer days in Alabama are extremely hot, so I decided that rather than carrying my pistol inside the waistband of my pants (which is a common place for concealed carry inside of a sleeve-like holster) I would wear my hip holster that day and carry it outside. It is far more comfortable that way, and according to the Code of Alabama (which lacks any restrictions on carrying a pistol openly) and Alabama Attorney General Opinion #84-00205 is perfectly legal.
After leaving the customer service department where I filled out the application, I joined the friend who had accompanied me and we continued to do a little shopping. On the way to the auto-maintenance department, I was approached by two Wal-Mart employees (I assume either security guards or managers). They asked me to speak with them in private for a moment, so I left my friend who was chatting with a few other people we had just met and joined the two officials. They asked me if the pistol was real, and when I confirmed that it was, they informed me that it was Wal-Mart policy not to allow anyone who was not a law enforcement officer on the premises with a firearm.
After informing me that I needed to leave, I turned back around to my friend and muttered that, "It looks like the anti-Second Amendment Nazis are running Wal-Mart now, we have to leave." As surveillance tapes will show (good luck getting a copy of them if you'd like to confirm this) I then immediately began walking to the front of the store under the supervision of the two Wal-Mart officials. During the walk to the front, I apologized to the man who asked me to leave telling him that I knew he was just doing his job and that he didn't write the policy, but I could assure him that the policy had just cost Wal-Mart a life long customer. I then asked permission to wait outside for my friend who still had to pay for his items as he had the keys to the truck we had come in. The official assured me that that would be fine, but he would have to stay with me. As I reached the door, he and the other man stopped, and continued to watch me as I waited outside.
When my friend left the store, I rejoined him and we walked back to our truck with the intention of leaving the premises immediately. However, he was followed by a group of approximately five Wal-Mart employees who waited in the entrance to watch us leave. As we were backing out of the parking space, my friend noticed a police cruiser, driven by Officer Steve McGowin, rank unknown. We figured that the officer was there to inform me that the Wal-Mart people didn't want me back on the premises with a gun, so we put the truck in park and waited for the car to pull up to us.
Sure enough, seconds later, the officer sped around the corner and pulled up behind us in the parking lot. He then exited his car, gun drawn, ordering us to put our hands out the windows. We both complied and my friend was dragged from the car onto the ground and put into handcuffs. I informed the officer that I was the one carrying the gun, and suddenly nearly 10 officers appeared to disarm me. I was then dragged out of the truck and thrown to the ground where I was handcuffed and left there while the officers searched their law books to find something with which to charge me.
My friend was then released and I was taken to the police station where I was booked, photographed and fingerprinted as a criminal. The officer told me that I was being charged with Disorderly Conduct because of the commotion that my arrest caused in the Wal-Mart parking lot and carrying a pistol illegally by violating Section 13A-11-52 of the Code of Alabama which states:
"Except as otherwise provided in this article, no person shall carry a pistol about his person on premises not his own or under his control;"(http://www.legislature.state.al.us/ CodeofAlabama/1975/coatoc.htm)
However, it was and is my understanding (based on the Attorney General's opinion cited above which can be found at http://www.ago.state.al.us/oldopinions/8400205.pdf) that anyone over the age of 18 and otherwise legally permitted to carry a pistol may do so anywhere that is open to public access, unless otherwise notified by the owner/manager of any private property. My concern is that Wal-Mart did not have posted at the entrance their "No Guns" policy, so until I was notified of the policy, I had no idea I was doing anything wrong. Again, as surveillance tapes will show, once I was informed of the policy, though annoyed, I immediately left the store peacefully.
The article printed yesterday says that I entered into a "verbal altercation" and became "ugly" and resorted to name calling. I suppose my comment to my friend could have been overheard, and could be considered name calling, but, again, as video surveillance will show, there was no aggressive argument of any kind. When issuing their report, I believe that the police did not take into account any of my statements about what happened, and therefore have provided you with an unfair, unbalanced picture of me as an aggressive instigator. Innocent until proven guilty indeed...
I now am faced with a whole new set of problems. First, I have been charged with two crimes that if convicted could cost me more than $500 in fines. Secondly, if convicted of a firearms violation, I could lose my right to carry a weapon for protection. Because of the minor status of these offenses, the City of Andalusia will not provide me with a lawyer, and as I cannot afford one, I am in no position to mount any sort of criminal defense. While anyone who knows me can tell you that I would never harm any innocent person and that I would never do anything if I thought it was against the law, I am now faced with the very probable conviction of two crimes that I cannot defend myself against.
If any of your readers have any advice or would be willing to provide any assistance, I ask that they contact your office to receive my contact information. Any and all help would be greatly appreciated. I feel that as Americans, we should all hold our Constitution as sacred, and peacefully bearing arms for self protection is a right that I take very seriously. I thank you for taking the time to hear my side of the story and God bless America.
Victor Andrew Mathis