Most of the festival-goers are gays, lesbians or their sympathizers, a group with a long history of being harassed and persecuted and who understandably might be a bit paranoid about someone in their midst packing a gun. Nelson has some disabilities and walks with a cane, and, as a homosexual, is also worried about harassment. Displaying his lawfully owned weapon may deter an attack, he says.
Caught in the middle was Police Lt. Rusty Isaacson, who approached Nelson after event organizers complained. Nelson cited state laws that he said gave him the right to carry the weapon unconcealed. Isaacson told Nelson to leave. He also wrote an incident report to be sent to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which issues concealed-weapon permits. Nelson, who has filed a complaint against Isaacson with Police Chief Chris Burbank, says Isaacson told him the best way to lose his permit is to abuse it, and implied this incident might apply.
Police spokesman Jeff Bedard said the department cannot comment on Nelson's complaint because it is under investigation by the Internal Affairs Division. But the incident highlights a conflict between the right of citizens to legally pack a weapon and the right of others to assemble without feeling intimidated or threatened. It also suggests the Utah Legislature might want to clarify existing laws to eliminate confusion.
Nelson says his permit allows him to carry his weapon virtually anywhere. While concealed weapons can be loaded, unconcealed weapons carried in some public places must be unloaded. Displayed weapons have certain restrictions: Loaded weapons cannot be carried on public sidewalks or in moving vehicles, for example. And some attorneys believe that applies to concealed-weapon permitees as well. A "concealed" permit, they say, means the weapon is "concealed." Once it is displayed, it falls under the same restrictions that apply to those without a permit.
When the University of Utah agreed to drop its lawsuit against Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who had issued a legal opinion that the state law allowing concealed-weapon permit holders to carry their weapons trumped a campus rule banning guns, it almost triggered an incident. Several student gun-rights advocates wanted to flaunt their victory by strapping guns to their hips and parading around the campus.
They were dissuaded from doing so, but one advocate, James Hardy, proudly strutted around the State Capitol during the legislative session with his holstered gun on his hip. No one questioned his right to do so.
When some members of the Utah House complained a few years ago that a fellow representative had a concealed weapon in his inside jacket pocket, he said later that it was a cell phone. If he really did have a gun, perhaps he should have just set it on his desk.