Police over-reaction? Appleton open carry ends with guns drawn, carriers cuffed before eventual release

It’s happened again: two men open-carrying AR-15s in public were stopped, and according to the audio and video evidence documenting the call, they were treated rudely by police.

Read and pay attention to how the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel frames the encounter:

Two men heading to Appleton’s downtown farmers market with AR-15 rifles slung over their shoulders and handguns in holsters swiftly attracted the attention of police officers last weekend.

Now, they’re attracting attention across the Internet, with some gun rights advocates expressing outrage that the pair were held at gunpoint and handcuffed, while others voice frustration at what they consider a foolish and dangerous stunt.

The men, Charles Branstrom, 27, and Ross Bauman, 22, ultimately were released without tickets or charges.

Branstrom recorded the confrontation with Appleton Police. About six minutes into the recording, one officer sees Branstrom’s camera, confiscates it and attempts to turn it off — but stops only the video. The device continues recording audio for about 45 minutes.

Gun rights advocates think the police acted inappropriately.

“I would never blame police for following up on ‘man with a gun’ calls, but they still have to behave within the limits of the law and abide by people’s constitutional rights,” said Nik Clark, president of Wisconsin Carry, Inc., a gun rights group. “I believe the police were acting outside of their legal authority when they pointed guns at the individuals and involuntarily detained them.”

Milwaukee’s police chief ridiculed the pair.

“In a post Aurora-Newtown environment, it’s a reckless and irresponsible stunt to strut around in public with an assault-style weapon and think police should assume you’re well-intentioned,” Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said Thursday, referring to mass shooting incidents in Colorado and Connecticut.

“It’s just absurd,” Flynn said. “This has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. These characters and those who support them should be ashamed of themselves.”

Appleton police declined to comment beyond a prepared statement issued after a Journal Sentinel inquiry Thursday. It said police responded after getting calls about the men from concerned citizens, briefly detained the men and released them after determining they intended no harm and were in legal possession of the guns. The department “has no ongoing investigation and considers the issue resolved,” the statement reads.

It would be irresponsible for police to not respond to what were likely multiple calls about “men with assault rifles” walking through the city. That is abnormal behavior, and the police need to check the situation out because it is, after all, their chosen career to “serve and protect.”

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn is well-known as a vocal opponent of both concealed and open carry who has (with one exception) always been a chief in cities where the citizens are kept disarmed and compliant.  Do you think his dismissive attitude towards armed citizens has trickled down to the cops on the street? Listen to the call, and judge for yourself.

If the two men were being as compliant as they seemed to be in their recordings (which captured next to no useful video, but which did a good job of documenting most of the audio), the police went too far in pulling their sidearms to “cover” men who never acted in a threatening manner (the AR-15s were on their backs), cuffing them, and threatening to arrest them for being well within their rights.

It is also chilling that these officers apparently felt the need to stop recording the event. I can think of no legal justification for law enforcement officer to attempt to cover up their actions during the performance of their official duties.


As for the open carry of AR-15s, it rarely seems to go over well in the general public, and the Journal-Sentinel was correct in noting that it is controversial even among shooters.

Would the open carry of other rifles—perhaps traditional wood-stocked bolt-action rifles, for example—function just as well to inform the public of their right to open carry rifles, without causing the same level of concern an AR-15 does?