Nine members of a pro firearm group recently walked through downtown Kent, handguns on their hips, to promote Ohio's open carry gun law.
The group, called NEO Carry, held a similar walk in downtown Akron. During the walks, members simply stroll through populated urban areas handing out fliers about the group and state gun laws.
Brett Pucillo, a Kent native who now teaches in the Youngstown City School district, is a co-founder of the group. Pucillo is the man carrying the camera whose voice you can hear on the video.
Pucillo said the group's goal is to promote education, and they plan to offer classes ranging from gun safety to the basics of shootings taught by instructors certified by the National Rifle Assocation.
"One of the biggest questions we get is 'Why do you do this?' ... I refer to a quote from the NRA: 'A right is like a muscle; if you don't exercise it, you will lose it,'" Pucillo said in an email.
The Kent walk was originally scheduled for Dec. 16, just two days after the deadly shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, CT. NEO Carry rescheduled the walk to Dec. 23, 2012, at the recommendation of Kent City Councilman Garret Ferrara.
The video shows the group, which notified the Kent Police Department in advance of the event, meeting near Buffalo Wild Wings and then walking past businesses on Franklin Avenue, Main and Water streets.
Kent Safety Director William Lillich circulated information among downtown business groups prior to the demonstration to inform business owners of the potential for members of NEO Carry to walk into their stores while carrying handguns.
"The police department has no reason to feel that this organization presents any threat to the community," Lillich wrote in the advisory to business groups.
Ohio law does not regulate or prohibit residents from openly carrying firearms. Though private property owners or tenants can post notices prohibiting firearms on their premises, as many Kent businesses do.
Pucillo said that most people were distracted by holiday shopping and paid little attention to the group as it walked through downtown last month.
"Many people did not notice that we were even carrying our firearms," he said. "We passed out over 50 fliers, and the majority of people did agree to take a flier, although fewer people were willing to stop and discuss our group than in Akron. Some people were surprised to learn that open carry was legal, but hardly anyone seemed to mind."
Kent Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lori Wemhoff said she heard from a few business owners who were grateful to receive advance notice of the event, but she didn't hear any complaints afterward.
"I never heard a thing about it," she said.
Click on this link to see a list of Kent businesses that welcome or prohibit firearms.
Pucillo established the group with his brother in 2012, according to its website, to "promote the second amendment, gun rights, and the legal carry of firearms through public demonstrations, law enforcement partnerships, online resources, firearm training courses, and education."
NEO Carry differs from larger, statewide groups such as the Buckeye Firearms Association because they focus their educational and outreach efforts in local communities, Pucillo said.
"This is not to say that we do not work with other local and state groups," he said. "Buckeye Firearms, Ohio Open Carry, and Ohioans for Concealed Carry all work together in an online presence to promote each other’s organizations and spread as much education about responsible gun ownership as possible.
"The northeast Ohio communities that we have interacted with so far have been welcoming of our group," Pucillo said. "We have received the cooperation of both Akron and Kent police departments, and they seemed to appreciate us informing them of our walks beforehand. This saves them from any undo alarm in the case that someone might call the station frightened at having seen a firearm."
NEO Carry plans more walks similar to the one held in Kent in other Northeast Ohio communities but most likely not until after the winter. The group also is working with individuals in southwest and northwest Ohio to establish similar organizations.
When approached by people critical of the group or its actions Pucillo said they try to respond politely to questions or criticism.
"We simply thank them for their time and continue walking," he said. "For those that are inclined to start a conversation on the subject ... We listen to their views and when they are done talking, we try to dispel as many myths as possible and give them proven facts."