Gathering Place officials are “aware” of an upcoming planned protest by an Oklahoma gun rights group, park spokeswoman Katie Bullock said in an email Tuesday.
But they were mostly mum on how they would respond to the potential of hundreds of armed men and women descending on the gun-free park.
The group, Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association, planned the protest — announced for Oct. 13 outside of a park entrance at 26th Street and Riverside Drive — in response to events that took place at the Gathering Place grand opening last month.
Tulsa World photographer Mike Simons captured video during the Gathering Place opening of Timothy Harper, a member of the Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Group, being herded out of the park by a handful of bicycle-riding Tulsa Police Department officers.
Tim Harper with Oklahoma 2nd Amendment association wanted to open carry his gun at Gathering Place. That is against park rules. He was removed from the park and informed it is a private park @tulsaworld #gathertulsa pic.twitter.com/VtmOhjmTaR
— mike simons (@mikesimonsphoto) September 8, 2018
Harper, wearing a red U.S.A. hat with the number 45 (denoting Donald Trump, the country’s 45th President) on the side, was open carrying a handgun on his hip when he was evicted from the park. He and at least two others slowly walked backwards out of the park while recording the interaction with officers on their cell phones. Harper, a self-described “First and Second Amendment auditor,” later posted the video to his News Now OKC Youtube account. Other videos by Harper show him sitting armed and open-carrying in a McDonald’s restaurant playground, confronting an alleged drunk driver he says was an illegal immigrant and going into various public buildings and recording his interactions.
The Gathering Place is a privately-funded park that was assigned to Tulsa County’s River Parks Authority around the same time construction began. Matt Meyer, the executive director of River Parks Authority, told the Tulsa World that — outside of private events like Oktoberfest — anyone with “a license to carry … can do that in River Parks.”
Gathering Place officials have maintained the park is operated privately, giving them the option to ban firearms.
Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, said about 500 people have expressed interest via Facebook in attending the event.
It is both a rally and a protest, he said, and pointed to Harper’s ouster from the park as an example of a peaceful armed person being removed.
“The Gathering Place, Riverpark Authority and the City of Tulsa are violating state laws pertaining to the peaceful carry of firearms,” Spencer said. “What would happen if the Gathering Place decided that people couldn’t carry a Bible or said the press couldn’t come in here?”
Spencer declined to say whether the plan for those who attend the event is to carry a firearm openly or concealed.
“Right now, there will be people there carrying — I’m probably not going into detail how they’ll be carrying — I don’t really ever worry about that anyway, myself.”
In a video Spencer recorded last month discussing the protest, he said: “A lot of us will be carrying guns, which is normal. Some won’t be. But we’ll always be peaceful and then after we’ve met for a while … I’m going to go through the park. It’s a beautiful place, it’s a wonderful place.”
Last week, Harper told KFAQ’s Pat Campbell that the plan for the rally involves people openly carrying, carrying concealed and “false carrying” (pretending to be in possession of a handgun) attempting to enter the park. Those who are concealed carrying, Harper told Campbell, will make their guns visible once inside.
Thus far, OK2A has not notified the Tulsa Police Department about the rally, Spencer said.
“We have a First Amendment right to peacefully gather,” Spencer said. “We’ll be exercising our First Amendment rights also. We’re not planning on doing anything crazy. We’re a peaceful bunch. I would have no reason to think we need to notify them.”
Spencer said “it would be a gross overreaction” on the part of TPD if there were an incident involving one of the armed protestors and the police, as the state’s open carry law has been in effect for more than five years now.
“If there’s a reaction, it would be unnecessary,” Spencer said. “Any officer can walk up to any person carrying a gun and can ask for identification and a valid weapons license. We don’t anticipate a problem. We’re just some people gathering for a rally. We’re just going to take the time to discuss what the issue is, that our rights should not be prohibited and that the city of Tulsa, Riverpark authority and the Gathering Place are all in violation of the law and they’re basically facing civil action as a result of it.”
Spencer said he knows of no civil lawsuit filed on the issue yet, but “it’s going to happen, they’re just ignoring it.”
Spencer said he has carried a handgun into the Gathering Place, though it was concealed, and allowing firearms by licensed carriers does not create a safety issue. Harper told Pat Campbell that he had initially been carrying his firearm concealed, but began open carrying it once inside the park.
The point of openly carrying a firearm at The Gathering Place?
“Because they said you can’t,” Spencer said. “If they said you can’t go in and write a story, that would be a problem. If you can peacefully walk in, take notes, take pictures, there should be no absolutely reason you should be escorted from the park, because it would be a violation of your rights.”
In a video posted in mid-September, Spencer said the Oklahoma 2A group is “not merely a gun organization we are a liberty organization that just happens to realize it may take guns to maintain that liberty.”
“Also my personal objective is to take the stupid out of some of these cities that continue to violate our gun laws,” Spencer said.
In the video, Spencer mentioned the City of Bartlesville as being a municipality “who got it right,” saying the city had a “kiddie park” with “no gun” signs that it later took down after Spencer’s group told them they were violating state law.
“Because we can’t have guns around those kids right? We can have thugs with guns shooting and killing kids but we can’t have law-abiding people peaceful parents there to protect their kids,” he said in the video.
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