Should A Volunteer Open Carry A Gun at Art All Night?

I didn’t go looking for this fight. Honestly, I just wanted to enjoy a Pittsburgh tradition – Art All Night. I had planned to review this event with some gentle mocking of the hipsters and yuppies (oh, so many strollers) and then talk about the interesting art.

Instead, I am under siege from gun rights activists who  I must say include a pretty mean bunch of people who have no interest in reasonable discussion.

Let me back up.


Art All Night is an “open all night” art exhibit by community artists. It has a quasi-guerrilla art, quasi-family friendly sensibility. It is usually in a reclaimed space, like a warehouse and features lots of art, musical performances and activities. It is very grassroots and much beloved.

Event sponsors include the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Port Authority, Children’s Hospital of UPMC, and the Lawrenceville Corporation.

I’ll be honest. I attend this event because it is something Ledcat likes to do. It is a bit too disorganized and chaotic for my personal taste and sometimes it can be a bit too precious. I typically look at some art, go sit down to listen to music, look at more art, rinse, repeat. It works for me. I like to people watch and run into old friends. So this year we opted to go early – around 5:30/6:00 to minimize some of the intensity  – finding parking is a nightmare for this event.

There was a sort of random check of our bags for alcohol and in we went. It is a very industrial space with art tacked up on plywood in various sections. Some of the art is really interesting, some of it is just “meh” and some of it rather provocative. The organizers lay out the space pretty well and do a good job labeling the ‘adult’ section.

The activities for kids are intense and everywhere and so are the kids. Lots of kids. Mostly white kids under 10 wearing everything from pink tutus to pajamas. But there is simply so much for them to do that it works. And I am always happy to see kids having access to art – did I mention this event is free? I saw the usual Lawrenceville event suspects and only had 3 awkward encounters.

While Ledcat made her final rounds looking at the art, I went to sit down and listen to a mandolin player. I was puzzling over the probability that the two girls making friends in front of me *really* were both named Luna when it happened. A volunteer with the event walked past and I saw what I thought was a gun stuck in the waistband of his jeans.

Wait, what?

I got up and walked after him because I wanted to be sure – perhaps it was something that looked like a gun. Ledcat followed me and we got close enough for me to take photos and for her to confirm that it was a gun in what appeared to be a clip type holster inside his waistband.

Wait, what?

A volunteer at a kid-friendly event open carrying a handgun. In Lawrenceville. Surrounded by the children of most of the progressive Democrats in the region, many of whom are ardently anti-gun.

Being dutiful, I walked up to the volunteer table and asked to speak with a supervisor. That person confirmed that they knew there was a volunteer with a gun and it was being handled. I stood there weighing my options. I decided that I wanted to leave. I had had enough of gun violence this week with the video Alaska Thunderfuck made parodying shooting a trans woman in the head. Ironically, Alaska’s drag troupe has its origins at The Blue Moon, a bar about ten blocks away in Lawrenceville.

I posted this photo on social media with a question for the event.

Art All Night Pittsburgh
Volunteer at Art All Night


Response from Art All Night
Response from Art All Night


So … I don’t think this is really adequate or accurate, but the event is still underway so I’ll hopefully get a more robust response from them in the next 24 hours. And others have shared responses from AAN that were more detailed including expressions of gratitude that they sent “private” messages. I did go to the volunteer desk, AAN, where you had the chance to resolve it privately. That’s on you.

As you might imagine, the fact that I raised this question has generated some push back from the gun folks. The usual array of insults have been hurled – I’m paranoid, a “libtard”, ignorant, stupid, a victim and also, of course, chose to be a lesbian. People seem to be under the mistaken impression that the fact that Pennsylvania has an open carry “right” is a sufficient explanation. It is not. Volunteers are often required to adhere to certain constraints that the general public (or event attendees) do not.  The clearest example is requiring volunteers to abstain from drinking alcohol while “on duty” even though they are of age and alcohol is legally being served. Telling volunteers that they cannot bring weapons to an event (or openly display those weapons) is perfectly reasonable. Because the volunteers can choose not to participate if they find that constraint onerous. 

Frankly, if a volunteer showed up openly carrying a gun at an event like this, I would question their judgment and send them and their gun packing. I wouldn’t ask them to put the gun away. I would ask someone to put away their cell phone. A gun? But I have no idea whom this man is or what role he plays or why on earth he made this choice. Maybe he’s an organizer or an artists or a donor?


What’s really interesting to me is the fact that my asking a politically-charged question about an art exhibit is considered taboo or verboten. Some of the exhibits were pretty – well, I can’t post the images on Facebook. I wonder if they would consider a pro open carry gun entry?  But still WHY does someone need to openly carry a gun at this type of event? WHY? WHY? I know that they can, I get it. But WHY?

Regardless, the conversation on Facebook quickly deteriorated into a screed about the Second Amendment and willful ignorance of the actual issues. Art All Night says they will consider the public input for next year – as of right now, more people are defending this man than are expressing concerns about his decision to open carry his gun. I hope there is a robust discussion and the organization looks at the bigger picture (ha, pun!)

I also hope Pittsburgh progressives will take a step back and consider that this could happen again at any of the local events unless the issue is addressed ahead of time. Lawrenceville was one place mentioned in a recent NYT article about how awesome Pittsburgh is because it fuses the old and the new. Lawrenceville is hipster meets working class family. Is a gun toting white middle aged man hipster or working class or someone entirely new? What if someone walked into Art for Change (formerly Art for AIDS) carrying a gun on their hip? What about Pride? How about Black Pride? Or the Arts Festival? Or … what would it mean?

And Children’s Hospital has a very strong investment in this issue – they are the place that sees first hand the devastating impact of gun ownership gone awry on children.

My takeaway is that I need a better understanding of gun laws in PA. It is worth noting (to me) that my FB friends who are licensed attorneys seem pretty up on it, but came down on the side of “being legal doesn’t mean it is a good idea or appropriate.” And a lot of people have completely ridiculous ideas of the concept of an undercover cop and so forth. Much like the misguided belief that the police can shoot to maim (or that they are supposed to do that) warps public perceptions of shootings.

Art All Night is a perfectly fine event. I still think it is a bit pretentious and precious and certainly chaotic, but my overall impression hasn’t changed that much because of this incident. I’m disappointed that it was overwhelmingly white – white folks of all ages, but definitely middle and upper middle class white folks with a sprinkling of the working class hipster liberal arts crowd. That’s not surprising, but a reflection of Pittsburgh right now.

And, seriously guys, if you would address the parking debacle, you’d probably attract a more diverse crowd.

A few photos of things that captured my interest last night. The lighting was terrible so forgive that.


Art All Night
So, this is an interesting coat rack, no?


Art All Night

Art All Night


Art All Night
The piece was called “Brokeback Quilt” – it is lovely


Art All Night

Art All Night
This was ALMOST as tall as Ledcat



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  • Come on Sue, 30 states allow unlicensed open carry, including Pennsylvania. Learn more at PS. Note the man issuing an in-the-waste-ban holster – the gun is not just “stuck in his pants” as you allege.

    • I’m learning more, rest assured. I have no idea what “the man issuing an in-the-waste-ban holster” actually means, Mike, but I’ll assume there’s a holster involved that just makes it looks like the gun is shoved in his waistband. That is in no way reassuring, nor does it answer the question of why he needed a gun as a volunteer at this event. Note I’m not asking if he’s ALLOWED to carry a gun – but why a volunteer needs a gun.

  • “Telling volunteers that they cannot bring weapons to an event (or openly display those weapons) is perfectly reasonable. ”

    Do I understand you’re perfectly fine with volunteers carrying their personal defensive firearms as long as you don’t have to see them?

    • No, please reread the sentence. I wrote carry or display. I can’t think of a single situation where a volunteer needs a weapon. I believe the only people who should provide armed security at events are trained law officers.

      • OK. I disagree, and have withdrawn my volunteer participation when told my everyday carry was not welcome.

        I’d encourage you to consider there is more than one person here who has an opinion, and I maintain this volunteer’s is as valid as yours or mine or anyone else’s.

        • I think you are conflating the equality of the right to hold an opinion with the validity of those opinions. I respect your right to hold an opinion on this topic. But I also respect that the Westboro Baptist Church has a right to picket funerals even though I find that repugnant and offensive.

          I don’t believe the way the law is currently written in PA is Constitutional or reasonable. However, I recognize that there are options within that existing law for me to address my concerns – such as educating events to ban weapons and post accordingly. So I’m not suggesting we take a straw poll before an event and decide if guns are permitted. I’m strongly encouraging event organizers to give the larger issue serious consideration and make good policies ahead of time. That’s just good planning.

          As to the volunteer’s opinion – well, we don’t know what his opinion is. Based on his decision to wear a gun to this specific event in what my police officer contacts have told me is barely a sufficient holster AND with no visible evidence that he was in a security role, I question his judgment and decision making skills. Does that mean he can’t have an opinion? Of course not. Does that mean he can’t own or carry a gun? Of course not. Does that mean he can’t be part of the policy making conversation with the organizers? Of course not.

          But I cannot think of a single reasonable explanation or justification for him to make this decision. So, no I do not think there is any validity to the opinion that he should have carried a gun in this situation. And until Art All Night confirms their policies, it is up in the air as to whether he even had the right to do so – I don’t recall seeing any postings, but it is up to the organization to make that clear.

  • I didn’t see this volunteer myself. but i can tell you i would not have been comfortable. 1. It looks as if it’s just the waist band holding the gun, not a holster. if that is the case, it could drop or be lifted by deft fingers. 2. There is no training whatsoever for the volunteers telling them when it’s appropriate to open fire. 3. if one was to open fire there’s a 98% chance they’d be shooting into a crowd. 4. WHY would one need to open fire? as chaotic as AAN has gotten (i’ve attended the last 10 years)…. i’ve never seen a situation that would call for deadly force.

    • I can’t come up with any scenario where an armed volunteer would be helpful or constructive. If security were required for any reason, it should be actual security – details from the police departments in uniform or with security printed on their shirts/hats. That’s pretty standard stuff.

      If there was some actual threat that AAN organizers knew about, they absolutely should have the actual police there and I am pretty confident that is not the case. If not, then their leadership is questionable.

      I deduce that the individual just decided he should wear his gun, relying on this ridiculous “deterrent” rationalization. It is an absurdly illogical decision. What would be deterred – theft of a community art submission? Would anyone really draw a gun in a room filled with children and bystanders to shoot someone stealing art? Really? I can’t imagine that. Not that the art is without value, but I can’t imagine you or other artists would want that to happen. I can more surely imagine someone else in the room taking action like yelling at the person to not touch the art or confronting them. Not with a gun.

      After reading days of comments from gun fanatics, I can simply say – they are absurd in their reasoning, but they are prevailing when it comes to the law. They want to carry a gun because they want to carry a gun. Period. I don’t believe most of their reasoning and I question the lucidity of some of their claims. But I also sense that logic will not prevail when someone is convinced that their gun is essential to their personal safety and/or they have some notion about saving the innocent bystander.

      I’m also somewhat confident that if a black male aged 23-30 walked into that event openly carrying a weapon on his hip in that exact manner, the conversation would be different.

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