Anthrocon bans fur over open carry
But for residents, the truth is more nuanced, as two-time Anthrocon attendee David Ross found when he was banned after openly — and legally — carrying a firearm in Pennsylvania.
Open carry and the law
Where he lives, Mr. Ross is in good company. Open and concealed carry has been legal for all non-restricted residents of Alaska since 2003; permits are now issued mainly to allow residents to carry weapons in other states.
As for Pennsylvania, open carry generally only requires a license in a "first-class city", of which there is only one. Pittsburgh has no such law, nor — like Allegheny County — can it make one. The airport's was originally valid, but state legislature preempted it (PA constitution article IX, section 2).
|David Ross||Dr. Samuel Conway|
Crime in Pittsburgh
As flippant he sounded, Dr. Conway may have a point. Pittsburgh is now largely a tourist destination, as shown by Anthrocon's presence; in some suburbs, the most likely crime involves being mugged by girl scouts.
A 2007 CQ Press survey ranked Pittsburgh's metropolitan area 239th most dangerous of 333 — 31 points below the national average, and on par with the areas around Ann Arbor, Fort Wayne, and Ocean City. It compares favourably to that of nearby Philadelphia (43rd). Indeed, in 2007 Pittsburgh was rated the most livable city in America.
But Pittsburgh is still a big city — albeit of the second class — and the crime rate within city limits look a little different. Here, Pittsburgh ranks 67th of 378, over 100 points higher than the national average; akin to New Orleans, Boston, Phoenix and Tampa, and quite unlike the city of Ann Arbor (322nd).
Like all cities, some parts are safer than others. But while crime downtown appears largely restricted to robbery, theft and assault, these are still felonies to avoid. An attendee claimed to be mugged in 2008; it's likely no area is entirely safe.
Mr. Ross is not alone in carrying a gun; it's just rare to do so openly. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Allegheny County issued 49,000 concealed weapon permits through March 2006 — the most of any county in the state, and twice as many as Philadelphia.
State law on concealed carry has become more lenient in the last quarter of a century, and Pennsylvania has not arbitrarily refused concealed weapon permits since 1989.
Mr. Ross is a fur — as advertised by his phone number, I B FURRY. He's even working on a fursuit. He's also a fan of open carry; exercising what proponents believe to be a constitutionally-protected right to visibly bear firearms — in this case, a Springfield XD.
In 2008, Mr. Ross was stopped by an officer while looking for a place to eat in Pittsburgh. He was asked for ID, handcuffed, his gun was seized, and backup was called. Yet thirty minutes later, word came back that carrying a holstered gun was not against the law. Open carry was placed on the Municipal Police Training syllabus for 2009.
Next year, Mr. Ross was noticed holstering his gun at Pittsburgh airport's baggage claim. Arrested for carrying a weapon on airport premises — a violation of Allegheny County ordinance §705-39 — he spent four hours detained in a cell. He was found guilty at his magistrate's trial, but not guilty on appeal. The district attorney conceded after reading the defense brief, which pointed out that state law alone can regulate the possession of firearms (18 Pa. C.S. §1620).
|You have repeatedly insisted that the area in which Anthrocon's convention takes place is sufficiently dangerous that it is necessary to carry a firearm for protection. If that is indeed the case, then we feel it is wisest you not attend so that you need not be exposed to unnecessary danger.|
Mr. Ross disputed this, saying that he only carried his firearm "outside of the Westin and convention center," and that he had not said the area was a particularly unsafe "hot zone."
Dr. Conway's reply suggests Anthrocon was less concerned with Mr. Ross's safety than its public image. Claiming such actions "[created] a significant amount of distress to the public" and "[disrupted] the goodwill of the city of Pittsburgh toward Anthrocon and its attendees," he said the con is "trying to maintain a friendly relationship" with the local police, and "cannot afford to be associated" with those "increasingly being perceived as a concern by [them]."
To Anthrocon, that "police were summoned on at least two occasions" helps justify Mr. Ross's expulsion. But that statement isn't quite true. In both cases, law enforcement officers were already there, and took it on themselves to act, without knowledge of his identity.
There's also little to suggest the public — or Anthrocon — were involved at all, let alone any sign of the alleged "significant distress", "extreme and undue panic" or "significant trauma." And it does not seem an "unnecessary burden on law enforcement" to expect them to know the law.
Anthrocon declined to discuss these and other issues with Flayrah, citing attendee privacy and the wish to avoid airing internal matters in public forums. They did state that the decision to deny membership was "not something Anthrocon takes lightly," with "many factors [...] considered, including whether situations are likely to re-occur."
|Anthrocon's goal is to provide an enjoyable and safe convention for its attendees which include families and people with a broad range of personal interests. To further that goal, Anthrocon reserves the right to deny membership to any individuals who prove disruptive to convention operations, cause unwarranted discomfort to or jeopardize the health and safety of themselves or other attendees, or adversely affects Anthrocon's relationship with its guests, its venues or the public.|
Firearms in the fandom
Sgt. Steve of Anthrocon's security force, the Dorsai Irregulars, confirmed that they don't carry weapons on duty; at least, not beyond the occasional water gun. And Anthrocon's official policy is clear — no weapons, concealed or otherwise — though when asked, they declined to confirm that staff were subject to this prohibition.
But some conventions seem a lot more comfortable with firearm as long as they're out of sight. All Fur Fun's policy cites the "open display of weapons" — perhaps because their own security staff carry concealed. Zoniecon even had a scheduled Saturday Morning Machine Gun Shoot.
An ongoing issue?
At least one other fan has been banned recently based on "Internet postings." Arguably uploading videos of yourself misbehaving at the con is not advisable if you wish to return. But while Anthrocon may not consider the details of their decisions to be "subject to public debate," the response so far from its targets — and the public — suggests otherwise.
As a social club, Anthrocon has the legal right to deny membership to whoever it deems fit, other than on the basis of race, color, or religion. Still, doing so for actions that broke no laws, had no real connection to Anthrocon, and which overturned an unlawful ordinance raises eyebrows.
In fairness, Mr. Ross does have strong views on the use of guns against criminals — though he appears to have equally strong views on the need for training before use. Perhaps the board fears that, should a mugger approach, he might take the situation into his own hands.
But if they hoped to avoid controversy, their plan appears to have backfired. Mr. Ross still intends to come to Pittsburgh — perhaps even to live in the area in the future — and he doesn't seem shy of doing things to make a point. A fuzzy blue kangaroo strutting around downtown with a gun at his hip might not count as "an imminent public danger", but it might well garner the attention of local media.
Mr. Ross does not believe allowing firearms at Anthrocon itself would be good; in his own words, "stupid people would carry." But he is angry that merely carrying a holstered gun in the external vicinity of the convention might be considered reasonable justification for a ban.
As for furry conventions in general, the thorny question of firearms is not likely to go away, especially as the fandom continues to grow.