Like most of the parents in attendance I was more concerned with my daughters' safety and keeping them on the path than watching the other parents. So I didn’t see it.
It was first noticed by one of the other members. As one of the group's organizers he approached me first. “I don’t know if you noticed,” he said, “but that guy in the back is making me uncomfortable.”
Confused, I asked him why. “I just don’t feel that comfortable with him having a gun."
I whipped my head around in a manner that was the opposite of subtle. I quickly scanned the other parents, looking for the weapon. Then I saw it. Near the back of the group, walking with his daughter and his wife, was a man with a gun.
I was unsure of exactly how to react to this. I think my silence prompted the first dad to continue. “I know it’s his right and all, but it just seems wrong to have a gun at a kids hike.”
Although I agreed with him, I remained silent, unsure of how to proceed. I thanked him for letting me know and excused myself. But the question burned into my head. “Why would you bring a gun to a family event?”
I will admit this wasn’t a total surprise. When this particular dad joined our group he made no secret about his fondness for guns on our Facebook page. He often invited others to join him shooting or camping. He also was a very strong advocate for gun safety classes for kids. (A good idea if there is even a remote chance your kid may come into contact with a gun). We knew from what he posted that he had a concealed carry permit, and felt very strongly about his Second Amendment rights.
When he first joined the group, our leadership had a conversation about guns. Did we want someone like this in our group? Guns are a very divisive issue. I am not anti-gun. I have many hunters in my family, and know people who shoot skeet. I don’t have a problem with this.
I'm not pro-gun either. I personally see no point in automatic weapons, and don’t find guns all that effective for self defense. Most people aren’t trained well enough to make them a viable option. Shooting a person is much different than shooting a target, which is something a lot of gun owners can’t do with any consistency.
Other members of the leadership committee felt differently. They hated guns, and even the idea of one being at any of our events was an idea they couldn’t stomach. This topic was argued about for days. Would we allow this guy into our group, and around our children? The answer was, surprisingly, yes.
Our group prides itself on being open to anyone. Any race, religion, sexuality, heck our "dads group" is even open to moms. To deny this man membership would take that away. We would be judging him for actions he hasn't taken.
To use a silly example, I hate Crocs. They are ugly and no grown man should wear them. But to exclude someone just because they have abhorrent taste in footwear is wrong, and so would be excluding this man. If we wanted to be an open group, we had to be open to everyone, not just those with whom we agree.
We decided to not take any action. A Facebook post isn’t something to get too worked up about. If he found another like-minded dad, great. That's what our group is for. As long as he wasn’t threatening anyone or filling our newsfeed with pro-gun posts, who were we to judge? Like I stated above, "open" meant open to everyone.
I hurried up the path to talk to the other group organizer leading the hike. I asked if he knew about the gun, and his feelings on the matter. With a sullen look he confirmed that, yes, he had noticed. He also confirmed that, like me, it was making him feel very uneasy. But we stood by our previous decision. As we talked, we tried to figure out why he had brought it. What made him think we would need a gun on this hike?
For the life of me could not think of a reason he felt he would need it on this trail. We weren’t in a dangerous place. With almost 35 people in our group, and at a park behind the police station, I felt we were pretty safe from any person who would wish to hurt us. I know anything is possible, but I didn’t feel like we even made a good target.
The same goes for any animals. We were at a public park in the suburbs. The biggest thing we saw that day were some squirrels. We had 14 adults and 20 screaming toddlers. If one of those squirrels was brave enough to attack us, there's no guarantee a bullet would have stopped it.
As for the dad, at no point did I feel that he was a threat. He never removed the pistol from its holster or in any way gave us reason to suspect he didn’t know how to handle the gun or had any type of nefarious reason for having it. He was being respectful, if a little distant, to the other members. Like all of us, he was more concerned with keeping his daughter on the path and safe. The problem was, unlike the other parents, he was carrying a weapon.
We had to make a decision on how to handle this. What, if anything, should we do? Maybe talk to him, ask him to leave it home next time? We were left with only one choice.
We decided to do nothing. Based on his previous statements we were pretty sure he had a permit to carry the pistol. Being that the park was directly behind a police station only strengthened this belief. Also, as noted above, other than possessing the weapon, he wasn’t acting in a matter that made anyone feel threatened.
Simply put, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was legally allowed to have that gun. His actions weren’t threatening. We had no reason to exclude him or to infringe on his rights.
In the future if he continues to bring the gun we may talk with him. While we will respect his rights, we don’t want other members of the group to be uncomfortable. We may ask if he could leave it in his car, or carry it in a less conspicuous manner. But we will never ask him to silence himself or not come to an event.
I stated above that we pride ourselves on being an open group. We welcome dads of any ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Sometimes that means welcoming those we disagree with. During some subsequent events, I have had more of a chance to talk with this dad and he seems like a pretty good guy. He cares about his family, and like me, wants dads to be more active in their child's lives.
I'm happy with the way we reacted to the situation and am proud that our kids got to see their dads living up to the ideals we preach. On that day we were open and understanding. We accepted someone who was different and who made us a little uncomfortable at first. I couldn’t be prouder of us.