US & Canada

Gun rights Facebook stunt in Michigan condemned

A composite image taken from a Facebook live video: left, showing a balaclava-clad man holding a rifle, in tactical vest, with another man wearing body armour and holding a camera nearby. Right, a police station interior, showing one officer in a doorway with a weapon drawn Image copyright Facebook / James Baker
Image caption The stunt, live streamed to Facebook, was condemned by police and gun activists

Two gun activists were arrested after they entered a Michigan police station wearing body armour and masks, and carrying a large rifle.

The men, who describe themselves as "independent police auditors", said they were filing a complaint, and live-streamed the encounter on Facebook.

Michigan is an open-carry state, where it is legal to publicly carry guns.

But police said the stunt was "irresponsible" and that people had "fled in fear for their safety".

James Baker, 24, and Brandon Vreeland, 40, were arrested at the scene and released on bail pending court appearances.

The incident began, Dearborn police said, with a traffic stop to investigate reports of "two suspicious men" wearing tactical vests and masks.

A sergeant on patrol stopped the pair "to investigate further" but no action was taken, police said.

Some time later, Mr Baker began a live video stream to Facebook outside the police station.

"We're going to in and file a complaint because we were illegally pulled over an hour ago," Mr Baker said, wearing a tactical vest, balaclava, and rifle. Mr Vreeland could be seen nearby, also wearing armour, but carrying a camera.

"We felt a little afraid for our lives when we were pulled over, so we figured we better protect ourselves," he added, tilting the camera to show the rifle.

Moments after walking through the front door of the building, officers drew their weapons and told the pair to drop all weapons.

"Put it on the ground, now ... or you are dead. I will shoot you!" one officer can be heard shouting, before Mr Baker dropped his camera.

"I will put a round in you, sir! Put that rifle on the ground," an officer can be heard saying.

One of the two activists can be heard arguing that the guns are legal under open-carry laws.

Both men were arrested, and according to Mr Baker's Facebook page, were each charged with misdemeanours (lesser criminal acts).

'Reckless'

Police said they had seized a "loaded AP-14 firearm", an AR-15 rifle, an "AK-47 style" rifle, a loaded Glock 19 handgun, dozens of rounds of ammunition, body armour and ballistic vests, and camera equipment.

Although openly carrying firearms is permitted in the state, the stunt drew widespread criticism from both law enforcement and gun rights advocates.

Dearborn's Police Chief, Ronald Haddad, said the behaviour was "totally unacceptable and irresponsible" and was not related to the constitutional right to bear arms.

"We had members of the public in our lobby that fled in fear for their safety, as these men entered our building," he said.

The president of Michigan Open Carry, a gun rights advocacy group, called Chief Haddad to condemn the stunt.

"It is our belief that their actions were reckless, and primarily designed to draw attention and a response," the group said in a statement.

"Wearing a mask, dark glasses, visible body armour, and a rifle slung across your chest instils a very specific image that cannot be ignored," it added.

More on this story