By Elaine Magliaro
Leonard Papania, the police chief of Gulfport, Mississippi, appears to be unhappy with his state’s open carry laws “after a man strolling through a Walmart Sunday night menaced shoppers by loading and racking shells into his shotgun…” The incident caused police to dispatch a SWAT team to evacuate the store. Papania said that “he would have arrested the unidentified man and his companion if he could for stretching the city’s police forces thin while panicked Walmart employees huddled in a safe room.”
On Monday afternoon, the Gulfport Police Chief held a press conference in order “to discuss a situation that had many Walmart shoppers terrified Sunday evening.” “That’s not normal,” Papania said when speaking “about two men who went into Walmart, Winn Dixie and Krispy Kreme armed with a shotgun.”
While openly carrying a firearm in Mississippi is legal, Papania said this situation could have turned into “a very violent misunderstanding.”
According to authorities, the two men walked into the Walmart on Highway 49 around 8 p.m. Witnesses said the man holding the shotgun was actively loading and racking the firearm. Walmart does not have a policy about guns inside its stores.
Papania said, “If I were in a situation where I’m in the store shopping with my family and I see an individual loading a 12 gauge, and racking it, I’m not coming to the conclusion this is good…While the actions of these two men are sanctioned by state laws, what they did negatively impacted our community.” Papania added that “his department’s resources were stretched thin while officers and the SWAT team responded to this situation.”
Tom Boggioni of Raw Story:
According to police they received multiple calls about the men who had possibly done the same thing at a local Winn-Dixie, forcing police to divert officers to the Walmart to form a perimeter as the SWAT entered and searched the store. By the time police had arrived, the two men had left.
Using surveillance video police were able to track the men down and speak with them, but due to Mississippi’s open carry laws, the chief said his hands were tied after conferring with city attorneys.
Papania said, “In our nation there continues to be violent events. Many of these tragic events start to unfold with very similar circumstances where individuals exhibit peculiar actions with firearms around large crowds. The actions of these two men could have inadvertently led to a very violent misunderstanding.”
When he was asked whether he thought that police had overreacted to the situation, Papania said absolutely not. He added, “You don’t have to look hard in today’s media and see demonstrations of very violent acts. And if I had been in the store last night watching someone load a shotgun and rack it — that’s not normal. And that’s [sic] usually precipitates a violent act.”
After saying “Our state law allows for this,” Papania said, “If there was something I could have arrested these people for, I would,” before concluding, “Gun laws should be such that it provides us security. As we look at this fact pattern, do you feel safer?”