Gun owners carry weapons, go out for coffee in Orchards

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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More than 100 gun owners -- and their firearms -- converged on a Vancouver coffee shop Saturday, making a visual statement in support of guns and the right to carry them openly.

There was no itinerary. No specific guest list. Just a chance for like-minded people get together and talk about gun laws, politics or anything else, said organizer Tony Thomas.

Thomas said he doesn't usually consider himself a "political person." But he's found his cause in gun rights, he said, because of what he believes is an overreaching federal government.

"It's gone from politics as usual to something scary," Thomas said. "This administration is trying to take away people's rights."

Gun control has vaulted to the forefront of national

politics in recent weeks, particularly after December's mass shooting in Connecticut. President Barack Obama subsequently laid out a series of proposals to reduce gun violence -- some by congressional action, some by executive order.

Thomas said he put together Saturday's event, at Coffee Villa in Orchards, in part to "de-demonize" guns. Some people are needlessly afraid of firearms, he said, and those who carry should be aware of each other.

"People who carry guns are not necessarily dangerous," he said.

But here's a twist: Thomas, the man behind pro-gun organization Open Carry Vancouver, doesn't actually own a gun himself. Never has. Thomas said he would like to, however, and is in the market.

Vancouver resident Jeff Dietz said he's owned a gun since he legally could. Gatherings like Saturday's "Packin' Heat Meet & Greet" are partly about appreciating the ability to carry and own firearms, a right that many people around the world don't have, he said. That doesn't mean having to use it, he added.

"Just the fact that I know it's there means a lot," Dietz said.

The majority of Saturday's crowd carried handguns, holstered at belt or waist. Attendees lined out the door of the coffee shop, where an American flag billowed next to a Second Amendment flag from the back of a motorcycle in the parking lot. The gathering paused for a group photo at one point, taken from a nearby rooftop.

Thomas said he may organize more such events. A similar gathering convened at Vancouver's Esther Short Park in September.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com