Interview: The N.H. Man With A Gun Outside Obama's Town Hall

(IStockPhoto)
When William Kostric showed up outside President Obama's town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H. on Tuesday, he didn't expect to be the object of a storm of media scrutiny. The handgun that was -- legally -- strapped to his leg in full view of the television cameras may have had something to do with it.

Kostric's name has popped up in over 72,000 Web pages posted in the last few days, according to a date-limited Google search. A New York Times columnist used him as an example in a piece that claimed members of Congress are looking "semiheroic" by comparison; Salon.com's headline read: "Who was that gun-toting anti-Obama protester?" After featuring Kostric at least twice on Tuesday, MSNBC returned to him the next day when asking Rep. Ron Paul, the former Republican presidential candidate, what he thought of being armed in public.

In an interview with CBSNews.com on Wednesday, Kostric said he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and has carried his firearm openly in accordance with state law before. "We have a regular open carry contingent in New Hampshire," he said. "We do litter pickups and normal everyday events. People do that with their firearms... A right not exercised is a right lost."

The image of an armed man who was not a policeman anywhere near a presidential event sent TV commentators into fits -- especially when this one happened to be carrying a sign saying "It Is Time To Water The Tree Of Liberty," a reference to Thomas Jefferson's famous phrase. It also seemed to fit the theme of escalating violence and undercurrents of racism at town hall meetings, even though the first person hospitalized appears to have been one Kenneth Gladney, 38, a black conservative activist from St. Louis, who was handing out literature.

Over at the Huffington Post, the discussion has reached a remarkable 139 pages, and is still climbing. (Some of the more polite posts: "There was only one reason he brought that gun, to intimidate people, and one person in particular, President Obama" and "It is weird and unnecessary to carry a gun to a political event.") LavenderLiberal.com unearthed Kostric's MySpace page, which lists Atlas Shrugged as one of his favorite books, and discovered that he moved from Arizona to New Hampshire to join fellow libertarian-leaning types as part of the Free State Project.

Kostric, who is in his mid-30s and lives near Concord, N.H., said he never entered the town hall or laid eyes on Mr. Obama, who was ushered into the event held in a local school through a back entrance.

He has only positive things to say about New Hampshire police, who appeared to be familiar with state law regarding the carrying of firearms. "I did interact with the local Portsmouth police," he said. "They were quite professional... People expected me to get my face planted (on the ground). But it was handled professionally."

(AP Photo/Jim Cole)
New Hampshire state law is pretty clear about protecting its citizens' rights to carry firearms in public. Carrying a pistol or revolver openly is permitted without a license; carrying a concealed weapon requires a license from the state or local police.

Maine and Vermont are similar in terms of gun rights, Kostric said. "And New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island are just horrible places to live if you care about the Second Amendment at all."

All U.S. states except Illinois and Wisconsin grant licenses for concealed carry, and the National Rifle Association says 36 states require local police to issue the licenses unless there's a valid reason (such as a criminal history) not to do so. Most states also allow carrying firearms that are not concealed, although details can vary even within states.

Kostric said the Portsmouth police initially asked him to move 1,000 feet away from the school, but then permitted him to stay on the grounds of a church because it was private property. (Federal law generally restricts carrying firearms within 1,000 feet of school grounds, but the law does not apply "on private property not part of school grounds" or to anyone with a carry permit, with Kostric says he has.)

"I was weighing my options," Kostric said. "I was considering walking out to the car and dropping off my firearm and coming back. (The policeman) got off hte phone and relayed to me, that if I wanted to stand on the church property, which is about 30 feet from where I already was, that would be acceptable because it was private property."

"When someone's wearing a gun, they're not automatically a criminal," Kostric added. "The only way to do that is to make it an average everyday thing."
  • Declan McCullagh On Twitter»

    Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

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