May 14, 2008
DICKSON CITY — A Friday evening police incident spilled over into a Borough Council meeting Tuesday, with gun-rights advocates alleging harassment by two police officers.
The regular monthly meeting erupted into a full-blown debate on the Second Amendment, with more than 20 Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association members — many of whom were openly armed — arguing their right to carry a weapon in public.
Police have yet to release a report of the incident in which a group of customers at Old Country Buffet were questioned about openly carrying handguns in public. At least one of those customers, Rich Banks, of Luzerne County, was detained for refusing to cooperate with police in regard to his concealed .38-caliber handgun, Police Chief William Stadnitski said. Mr. Banks’ weapon remains confiscated, but the chief said he can pick it up at any time.
Pennsylvanians are required to carry a permit for a concealed weapon; however, there are exemptions, such as in the case of Mr. Banks, who Dickson City police later found out had a federal gun-dealer license.
“We don’t feel there was any misconduct. We did what we had to for the safety of the customers,” Chief Stadnitski said of his part-time officers, Karen Gallagher and Anthony Mariano, who responded to the restaurant after 911 received complaints. The chief said no charges will be filed.
But some, like Andrew Koch, disagreed. Mr. Koch drove more than five hours from Pittsburgh to speak out for Mr. Banks and the other gun owners who were “embarrassed, oppressed, harassed and violated” by the police.
“These officers need to be disciplined, and criminal charges need to be brought against them,” Mr. Koch said.
Firearm association members turned out from all over the state at Tuesday’s meeting after postings on Internet sites, such as www.opencarry.org. The co-founder of that site, Lancaster resident Mike Stollenwerk, drove from Washington, D.C., to protest the police conduct.
“Normally when hiccups like this happen, they don’t go as far as gun seizure. … Usually it gets cleared up much quicker,” he said.
Bill Grumbine, of Kutztown, carrying a Springfield XD-45 handgun, said he brought his 15-year-old daughter, Emily, for a “real-life civics lesson.”
“The last thing we want to do is use our guns, just like the last thing you want to do is use the air bag in your car,” he said. “But we believe in being prepared, and we believe in exercising our rights.”
Several council members and Mayor Anthony Zaleski defended the police officers.
“Our officers did not know what to expect. They could be walking into situations similar to shootings at school campuses and other public events,” said council President Barbara Mecca.
Contacted by The Times-Tribune, Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola declined to comment on this specific case, but said people have a right to openly carry a weapon without having to show identification or a permit.
“Police can ask, but if they don’t want to give it, they don’t have to,” he said. “It’s going to be surprising to the public, but that’s the current state of law.”
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