The Kroger on Emmet St. and Hydraulic Rd. was the unwitting host of a gun "show."
Protest pattern? Like the young man in Kroger, this Utah man walked into a JC Penny with an assault rifle just two weeks ago, trying to make a point about the Second Amendment.
Bob Girard had a craving for some ice cream last Sunday evening, so he stopped in at the Kroger on Hydraulic Road to pick up vanilla bean, extra chocolate, and strawberry, along with some Hershey's chocolate syrup. The last thing he expected to encounter was a fellow shopper with a rifle slung across his shoulder.
"What are you carrying?" asked Girard, a well-known local musician, who originally recounted the now widely reported incident in a Facebook post.
"An assault rifle," the guy said.
"What caliber?" asked Girard.
"A .308," he said. "An AR-15."
"Can I ask why you're carrying it around in Kroger?"
The guy told Girard it was his constitutional right to carry around a firearm.
"Here's really what you're doing," said Girard before he walked away. "What you're doing is bullshit."
Girard, reached by phone, says he didn't feel threatened by the man, who he estimates to have been in his early 20s, but according to news reports of the incident, which happened on Sunday, January 27 around 5pm, other shoppers most definitely did. Girard was angry.
"I began to think that every concealed carry person in the store has by now unsnapped their holster and is shopping one-handed," he wrote in his post, "waiting for a chance to make the papers."
After buying his ice cream, Girard says he happened to walk out of the store at the same time as the gun-toting young man. He noticed the man had not purchased anything.
"Is your gun loaded?" Girard asked.
"It's hot," said the young man.
"Does that mean it's loaded?"
Girard says he tagged along about 20 feet behind the guy, deciding on whether or not to continue the conversation, when five police cruisers responded to the situation. Girard witnessed a tense stand-off between the man and the officers, who had their guns drawn and were pointing them at the young man's head as he tried to explain what he was doing with the gun. The young man slowly lowered the rifle and placed it on the ground, like we've all seen in numerous cop shows, stepping 10 steps back, kneeling and then lying on the ground.
As recently reported, the young man was released and no charges were filed. In Virginia, carrying a firearm in plain sight is not illegal, and the young man had a permit. The man's name was not released.
"This situation can be quite dangerous for the individual who had the weapon as well as for the law-enforcement officers responding in an emergency mode," says Charlottesville police Lt. Ronnie Roberts. "We are just fortunate that nobody was hurt."
While Roberts says there is no Virginia statute that would allow for a formal charge, the department is in communication with its legal office on what options are available should this happen again.
"It may require the assistance of our legislative representatives," he says.
Meanwhile, to prevent such incidents, Roberts says that businesses like Kroger can post signs indicating that no firearms are allowed.
"I understand the different contexts in which the Second Amendment is interpreted and expressed," says Girard, "but I'm confused about the spectacularly stupid reasoning behind an armed promenade through Kroger, unless it's some sort of weird NRA membership dare or a narcissistic fantasy."
Whether or not that is the case, one thing is certain: this was not an original idea.
Earlier this month, two 22-year old men in Portland, Oregon were seen walking the streets with assault rifles on their backs. Questioned by police, they said they were exercising their Second Amendment rights and "hoping to educate the public," police reported. Back in December, a man in Portland, Maine carried a loaded AR-15 along a popular city trail to make a public display of his rights.
And just two weeks ago another 22-year old man entered a JC Penney in Riverdale, Utah with an unloaded AR-15 across his back and a loaded Glock 19C strapped to his side. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the young man said he was trying to demonstrate that firearms were not dangerous in the hands of law-abiding citizens.
Indeed, Girard says the young man was very calm as the police aimed their weapons at him, leading him to believe that he may have been coached on what to do and how to behave.
"In my humble opinion, carrying a weapon, concealed or open, is a narcissistic exercise that says as much about the owner's personality as it does about the convoluted interpretation of the constitution," says Girard.
"I'm an ardent supporter of both the 1st and 2nd Amendments, and both should be vigorously defended," says local lawyer Todd Rich, but he thinks this incident was akin to someone in the grocery store parking lot with a megaphone screaming at people that they are going to hell.
"This nimrod is as bad or worse," Rich says. "The only point he proved is that our civil liberties even apply to morons."
Terry Mahoney, a former Marine the Hook spoke to, has some advice for gun toting Second Amendment advocates.
"If you want to walk around carrying a gun," he says, "join the armed forces and go to Afghanistan or some other place."
Mahoney says he recognizes the right to own guns for self-defense, but he worries that too many people who own them haven't had the proper training on how to use them for that purpose.
"It shouldn't be harder to get a driver's license and operate a car than it is to get a gun permit and use a gun," he says.
Days after the encounter, Girard reflects on all the ways this apparent "protest" could have gone wrong, from another shopper with a concealed weapon thinking he could prevent a mass shooting by killing the man, to the police overreacting.
"The downside of an incident like this is potentially horrible," he says.