Upon further review of an incident involving openly carried firearms in public, the city attorney dropped disorderly conduct charges Thursday that were filed against five individuals last September.
Wisconsin Carry, Inc., a right to carry activist group, released a statement announcing the dropped charges Thursday. According to the statement, Chris Van Wagner, the group’s attorney, informed WCI of the news after he heard word from the city attorney.
“The Madison City Attorney agreed after a full review of the investigation and 911 call that there was absolutely no disturbance created by our members and the disorderly conduct citations were inappropriate,” Van Wagner said in the statement.
WCI filed a lawsuit against Madison Police Department Chief Noble Wray and the City of Madison on Sept. 29, 2010, over the disorderly conduct charges and MPD’s subsequent press release, WCI president Nik Clark said.
On Sept. 18, 2010, five WCI members were at an east side Culver’s restaurant in Madison when a woman in the drive-thru saw the men outside and noticed two had guns in holsters on their hips, Clark said.
According to an MPD statement, the 62-year-old woman called 911 and asked if carrying a firearm in public was legal. The call prompted nine police officers to arrive at the scene.
Police asked the men to produce identification, and when two declined, police cited them, Clark said. Those citations were subsequently dropped, but police mailed each of the five men a disorderly conduct citation two days later.
Clark said he was upset with the citations because the men were not disruptive or taking their guns out of the holsters.
“Police are de facto arresting people and issuing citations to suppress the right to carry,” Clark said.
Clark said WCI pursued the lawsuit because the citations and the press release were indications Wray was intending to infringe on civil rights. He said many members became afraid to carry firearms in Madison because of arrests and citations being made when people have not been disruptive, suspicious or dangerous.
In the MPD statement, Wray said the state’s Disorderly Conduct statute does not require an actual disturbance take place but that the activity tends to cause disturbances. Wray also issued a call to action in the statement asking “concerned citizens to call 911 when they see armed subjects.”
University of Wisconsin political science professor Donald Downs said open carrying is not disorderly conduct per se but could be if people are carrying firearms in a way that becomes disorderly.
“If you take [a gun] out and play with it, that could be considered disorderly conduct,” said Downs, who is an adviser to the Board of Directors of The Badger Herald. “I don’t think just sitting at a restaurant would be, but it depends on the facts.”
Clark said WCI plans to file a second lawsuit now that the disorderly conduct charges have been dropped. He said the civil lawsuit against the city would be directly related to the damages done to the five men, asking for compensation for legal costs and emotional damages.
“It’s not about the money for them; the amount of damages isn’t their concern,” Clark said. “We want more precedent for law abiding people going about their daily business exercising their right to carry.”