Sean M. Combs, 18, says he's "100 percent sure" he was acting legally when he strolled on Old Woodward Avenue in downtown Birmingham earlier this month with his M-1 rifle strapped to his back, muzzle to the sky.
What's unsettling is that Combs is right about what the law says and doesn't say.
He was arrested April 13 on three misdemeanor charges — for brandishing a weapon, resisting and obstructing police, and disturbing the peace — each punishable by up to 93 days in jail.
But no matter how the case turns out, the Troy High School senior is making his incendiary point.
A teenager out for a Friday night stroll on a crowded street with a classmate friend and his semi-automatic weapon still qualifies as a bizarre night out.
It suggests bad judgment, immaturity and a pathological need for attention — but it's not banned by law. "You can open carry, like the old wild wild West," says Michigan State Police spokesman Lt. James Shaw. "It's legal."
Still, Sean Combs was deliberately, and perhaps impulsively, pushing the bounds of social acceptability when he grabbed his rifle from the trunk, after deciding not to go to a movie. (Guns are banned from movie theaters, although a pending Senate bill would change that.)
But public strutting with guns is likely one consequence of the au courant embrace of all things NRA, including the state Legislature's 2011 bill to drop the hunting age from 12 to toddler, or the 2010 law empowering elementary schools to teach children gun safety.
Combs said he believes in "open carry" and the only way to break down social norms against it is to carry firearms openly. He used a rifle, he says, because federal regulations require him to be 21 to buy a handgun. To get the rifle, he only needed to be 18. "It's like buying a pack of cigarettes," he explains, correctly.
Why don't more people walk around with rifles?
Gun law expert Steve Dulan, who teaches firearms law at Cooley Law School, says the law doesn't differentiate between firearms. "Open carry is certainly lawful and the only reason I advise against it is because of the ignorance of the public and many law enforcement officers," he says. "You're likely to be staring down the barrel of a police officer's gun."
Combs, who was a captain of Troy High's cross-country team and gets good grades, is a regular guy, says his friend, Lia Grabowski, who was with him that night. "He's a really, really nice kid. He's not someone who's dangerous or scary."
A self-described "gun enthusiast," Combs studies "open carry" laws and websites that advocate carrying firearms out in the open as a political statement. "I did my homework," he says. He took his gun out of the trunk that night because "I wanted to change a social rule that I don't agree with" — namely the general social disapproval of guys walking down the street with military weapons slung over their shoulders.
Birmingham Police Chief Don Studt, whose officers arrested Combs on April 13, acknowledges the constitutionality of Combs' decision to carry his gun, but said "this guy was creating a disturbance and he wouldn't cooperate."
Those facts are in contention. The youth's attorney, James Makowski, says Combs had a clear understanding of the law when he decided to walk down the street with his 1942 military-issue semiautomatic rifle. "It isn't my style, but it's his right," Makowski says. "I've never had a client who is so clearly in the right."
There's no law against being a jerk. God bless America.
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