Kroger gun-toter: Misguided stunt, says mom
The identity of the 22-year old man who walked into the Kroger grocery store on Emmet Street carrying a loaded AR-15 rifle was withheld by police, given that he broke no laws and wasn't charged, but the man himself wasn't so tight-lipped as he gave what was announced to be an anonymous statement on the WNRN Sunday morning show Wake-up Call.
Asked by host Rick Moore to read the note he carried with him when he entered the Kroger on Sunday, January 27, the man, who'd been referred to as "Lawrence" previously during the interview, slipped.
"If I, Karl Bitzer, am injured or arrested today," he read, "it is for solely exercising my second amendment right to protect myself and my property; it is not to cause harm/injury to anyone else."
While Bitzer couldn't be reached for comment by press time, the Hook spoke with the young man's mother, Jini Bitzer, a Scottsville-based stained-glass artist, who paints her son as an opinionated, courageous person who did something he shouldn't have.
"He's a very straightforward young man," says Bitzer, whose Facebook page features numerous photos of her son, including one of the two riding motorcycles with custom plates. "Do I agree with what he did?" she asks. "No. But I love him and support him."
Bitzer says that her son had no intention of harming anyone, and that he just wanted to show people that not everyone with a gun is a bad person or a nut, a sentiment he echoes repeatedly during his radio interview.
"I wanted to show everyone a positive display that not everyone with a gun is bad or is going to hurt you," he said. "They're on your side and are going to help you in case you're ever in need."
"It's not the gun that is dangerous," his mother says. "It's the crazy person who has it."
However, as Charlottesville police Lt. Ronnie Roberts pointed out in a recent Hook story on the incident, it was a dangerous stunt that could have ended very badly.
"We are just fortunate that nobody was hurt," said Roberts.
Bitzer acknowledges that what her son did was misguided, but insists that his heart was in the right place.
"When I found out what he had done, I thought, 'Oh, sweetheart, you just don't know how this is going to go,'" says Bitzer. "He's living in a 22-year-old bubble, and he just didn't see the big picture here. He honestly thought people would understand what he was doing, that it was an attempt to draw attention to Second Amendment issues. He didn't expect the repercussions."
"I'm a father, and my wife is a mother, and we probably feel much the same way about some of the decisions that our kids have made," says Bob Girard, who encountered Bitzer in the store. "But displaying lethal weapons in a place where people have a natural suspicion should never be unremarkable."
Indeed, Bitzer acknowledged that her son knew he was putting himself in a dangerous situation, as he expressed in a letter he wrote beforehand that he knew he might get hurt.
"The difference between this guy and the next may be imperceptible on the outside," says Girard, "but you cannot afford to– you shouldn't be compelled to– make snap life-or-death judgments based largely on the appearance, smile or outward demeanor of another person, especially when they're carrying a loaded rifle."
As a mother, Bitzer is just relieved that nothing bad happened to her son, and hopes that some sort of positive discussion about the gun issue can come of it.
"I hope both groups–– gun advocates and gun control people–– can come together and work something out," she says. "We can't have nuts running around with guns."