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Thursday, February 17,2011

The most dangerous library in the world?

Open gun carriers feel the need to protect themselves at the downtown Capital Area District Library, which the library director calls

by Andy Balaskovitz
Tyler stands outside the Capital Area District Library with a pistol holstered to his right hip. Tyler has asked that his face be made indistinguishable because he has been "harrassed" since the story was originally published Feb. 16. Andy Balaskovitz/Cit

This story was updated on February 17.


At about 3 p.m. Monday, Tyler was browsing the Blu-ray DVD section at the Capital Area District Library’s downtown location at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Kalamazoo Street.


Tyler had a pistol holstered to his hip as he decided to rent "Bank Job," a 2008 crime thriller about a bank heist in London.


I recognized Tyler — who did not want to give his last name for his “personal safety” — from a Lansing City Council meeting one week before. He joined a group of about five others to protest the city’s firearms ordinance and also CADL’s no-weapons policy — which the group believes is illegal — at Council.


Tyler — who declined to give his age on the record but isn’t old enough to drink, yet can walk around town legally with a gun — did not address the Council, but I recognized his face in the crowd. As it turns out, I have been reporting on Tyler for two months.


Tyler walked through the same library Dec. 11 with a shotgun strapped to his shoulder, sparking controversy, alarm and legal opinions at the library. Since then, at least four other instances of open carry took place at the library, yet the CADL still bans the practice. The open carriers say they feel no safer without their guns just because they’re in a library.


On Monday, I asked how he had just made it past the two security guards at the entrance with the gun, a Hi-Point C-9 pistol that can fire eight to 10 rounds. “That guard was sleeping,” he said.


Less than a minute into our conversation, a security guard named Denny approached us and asked Tyler to leave.


“You’re in violation of the library’s weapons policy,” Denny, who also didn’t want to give his last name, sternly told Tyler.


The exchange between Tyler and Denny lasted maybe 30 seconds. Tyler agreed to leave after he checked out “Bank Job.”


I asked Tyler why he felt compelled to carry a shotgun through a library while not facing any personal threats.


“You never know when or what will happen. (The library) is close to bad areas,” he said, elaborating that downtown attracts threatening people at night. And he carried a shotgun because Dec. 11 was a windy day. “If my coat covers my firearm it’s a felony. I opted for something that is pretty much impossible to conceal.”


What about parents who feel guns shouldn’t be around their children at the library?


“People are entitled to their own opinion. I believe I am lawfully carrying a firearm.”


Tyler, who grew up in the Lansing area, said he comes to the library about three times a month. He has never had to use a gun for self-defense against a person, but he did so once with a wild dog and once with a bear.


Since this story was originally published Feb. 16, Tyler has asked that his face be made indistinguishable in the photo because he has been harassed for openly carrying guns in the library.


Tyler carried his gun in the library Monday to protest the no-weapons policy. Even though he was asked to leave when security spotted it, Tyler said he will keep doing it. It was at least the fifth incident in the past two months when people openly carried their guns in the downtown library:


• Dec. 11: Tyler walks through the first and second floor of the library with a shotgun strapped to his shoulder. The Lansing Police Department responds to a 911 call from a patron at the library. Tyler was asked to leave and he did.


• Jan. 3: Phillip Hofmeister walks through the library with a handgun holstered to his hip. He was asked to leave and he did.


• Feb. 7: Michigan Open Carry President Scott Webb and Vice President Rob Harris prepare speeches at the library before addressing the Lansing City Council. They are supervised by CADL security guards for openly carrying handguns but are not asked to leave.


• Sunday: According to CADL Director Lance Werner, a man openly carrying a handgun visits the library with a woman and a young child. He was asked to leave and he did.


• Monday: Tyler visits the library again to protest its no weapons policy, this time with a handgun strapped to his hip. He was asked to leave and did.


Gun rights advocates may be right that CADL’s policy is illegal because it may not qualify as a state-recognized “pistol-free zone,” like churches, bars, arenas and schools. But why are they making an example out of a public library, a building frequented by children?


Lansing Police Capt. Mike Yankowski said that no one will be arrested for openly carrying guns in the library, because Lansing’s firearms ordinance — which bans guns in public places unless it is in a case and is not loaded — is trumped by state law. However, the LPD will respond to CADL’s calls if necessary, he said.


Yankowski said the LPD responded to fewer than 20 calls last year and so far this year at the downtown library.


“They ran anywhere from trespassing, to people sleeping inside the library, to disorderly type of behavior and larcenies,” Yankowski said, adding that there were no incidences of assault.


State Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, is working on legislation that would add libraries to the state’s list of pistol-free zones. Meanwhile, an opposite bill in the House Judiciary Committee would eliminate pistol-free zones completely.


Hofmeister, a member of the gun rights advocacy group Michigan Open Carry, explained that there are often people hanging around outside the library who look like they are “in need of something.”


“Some of them don’t look exactly friendly. People that look at you when you walk out. Like people that are in need of something and they might try and get it from you,” Hofmeister said on the radio show “City Pulse on the Air.”


Werner
said that while “some people who are down on their luck” might walk
around the premises, it doesn’t mean the library is unsafe.


“It’s
stereotypical to think if you’re downtown it’s a bad environment. It’s
safe here,” Werner said while standing in the library lobby.


Werner
and the library board are standing by the no-weapons policy, even
though libraries are not considered “pistol-free zones.” Citing
attorney-client privilege, Werner would not discuss the legal argument
the library is making, but he thinks it’s sound.


When
told Tyler and Hofmeister open carry at the library for their own
safety, Werner said, “In my opinion, that’s utterly ridiculous.”


“I’m sorry he feels that way,” Werner said. “I hope he feels like he’s in some living room. That’s how we want everyone to feel.”

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