RIVERDALE — The man who walked into the Riverdale JC Penney store Wednesday with an assault rifle strapped to his back and a pistol clipped to his belt negatively affected gun owners by making his political statement, according to local leaders.
“The guy is an idiot, and I am a big gun right’s supporter," said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton.
The man’s actions hurt gun owners, the majority of whom are conscientious, Ray said.
It was strictly a political statement, Ray said.
But the person he may have most put in jeopardy was himself, Ray said, by walking into the store with an assault rifle strapped to his back.
Other proponents of gun ownership agree.
“There is no question he is within his rights to carry a firearm. Is he breaking the law? No. But logic would tell you he is creating a situation where others are put in fear,” Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace.
Dee said he supports the Second Amendment and has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. But based on recent shootings, he said, if he had seen someone in a store with an assault rifle strapped to their back he likely would have left the building.
“I wish I could tell people’s intent,” Dee said.
His hope is “logic might prevail” when it comes to someone making a political statement about gun ownership, Dee said. But his concern is the incident, which has drawn wide spread attention, may set back those making arguments against gun control.
The man carrying the assault weapon has that right based on the law, Dee said, and he will continue to support that right.
“But logic would dictate how you do it,” he said.
A photo of the man carrying the weapons in the store circulated widely on Facebook,
Weber County dispatch reported it did not receive a single call regarding the incident, based on police call logs from Wednesday.
The Salt Lake Tribune identified the man as 22-year-old Joseph Kelley, who says he was trying to demonstrate that the weapons aren’t dangerous when handled by law-abiding citizens.
Kelley says the AR-15 he was carrying was unloaded, which is legal.
Attempts by the Standard-Examiner to reach Kelley were not successful.
Riverdale police said their office was never contacted in advance about the man’s intent to carry the weapons into the store.
“We understand he was trying to make a statement,” Riverdale Mayor Bruce Burrows said of the incident.
But the 911 call center has no record of this individual notifying police prior to going to the store, nor does the center have any record of anyone from JC Penney or a store customer contacting them, Burrows said.
Had police been notified they would have tried to talk the man out of committing the act by explaining to him “that it is not good practice to walk around with an assault rifle,” Burrows said.
Had police not been successful in doing that, Burrows said, they would have had a presence at the store to prevent people there from panicking.
Burrows said he finds it “unconscionable” in light of recent events that the man would walk into the store carrying the rifle.
“People are too edgy right now,” he said.
And if this man is a gun advocate, Burrows said, his actions may have done more harm than good in promoting that message.
But there are those who defend the act, although they concede it was silly.
Michael Heath commented in a message to the Standard-Examiner: “Is this guy a little silly? Yes. Did he break any laws, or hurt anyone? No. But everyone wants to have him committed? Scary. If you want to have a law-abiding, peaceful individual committed to a mental institution purely because you disagree with his peaceful protest methods, I’m more afraid of you than I am of him.”
Messages left with the JC Penney corporate offices in Plano, Tex., were not returned.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this story.