Tyler Gottwalt likes guns, and sometimes likes to carry them around his hometown. This makes him like many other Americans.
What makes Gottwalt a little different is his decision, one day back in 2014, to bring a particular type of firearm as he went out for a stroll through St. Cloud: an AK-47.
For reasons that escape Gottwalt, motorists in that central Minnesota city were alarmed at the sight of someone carrying a semi-automatic rifle, the same gun favored by communists, guerilla fighters, and a lot of action movie villains.
Cops didn't know what to expect, and prepared for the worst. When they approached Gottwalt, they'd brought rifles of their own.
By some good luck for Gottwalt, the nervy situation came to a peaceful end, with no shots fired, and a simple slap on the wrist for Gottwalt. He was briefly arrested, but then let go — he had his concealed-carry permit on him at the time — and eventually charged with violating a city ordinance. That ordinance prohibits anyone in St. Cloud from walking around with a firearm that isn't "dismounted or broken down or carried in a case in a manner that it cannot be discharged."
The ordinance makes a clear exception for handguns, which can be carried by permit holders. Given its language, and the city itself, the rule is probably directed at trying to limit accidental shootings by improperly secured hunting rifles, not guys crossing a bridge with an AK-47 on their back.
Gottwalt, 23, says the city's ordinance is in conflict with state law protecting concealed carry rights. A judge agreed, and dropped the ordinance violation case. That wasn't good enough for Gottwalt, who is now suing the city. He wants the city statute thrown out, and is seeking financial damages, saying St. Cloud violated the Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments — four out of the first 14! — in its handling of his case.
The lawsuit, available here from KSTP, says Gottwalt was subject to "malicious persecution," and is seeking compensatory damages "in excess of $75,000."
Asked by KSTP just, uh, why Gottwalt was walking around with his rifle out, his attorney, Kenneth Udoibok, shrugs. "Why not?"
Right. Gottwalt's explanation was similarly informative. "The answer is simple," he says. "It's because it's my right to do so."
In the same interview, Gottwalt says he did expect to get stopped by cops that day, but didn't expect they'd treat him like such a threat.
It's a valuable lesson for the people of St. Cloud: Next time you see someone walking around with a semi-automatic rifle, they might be a dangerous person about to embark on a spree shooting. Or it could be a law-abiding gun lover who is about to have 30 percent of the Bill of Rights violated. Hope you guess right!
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