According to a Seattle Police Department incident report, the 5 Point Cafe received a call Wednesday afternoon from a man demanding to talk to the manager or owner. When informed that they were not in, the caller refused to leave a call-back number. According to the police report, the caller then asked "if the Mayor's new gun free zone initiative would prevent someone from coming in and shooting up the place," and then hung up the phone.
Understandably, within the context of the angry phone calls and emails they'd been getting from gun rights advocates, the folks at the 5 Point took this direct language as a veiled threat. "We of course dialed *69, got the number and reported it to the police," owner Dave Meinert confirmed via email. So I called the Clearwater, Florida number they retrieved, to ask the caller what he meant.
"I am not about threatening anybody," Daniel McMahon calmly assured me while verifying the general content of the call. "I was asking them a question: Do really think that a criminal is going to look at that sign and turn away? Is that really going to stop a crazy criminal?"
Meinert says the same number also called Lost Lake and Big Mario's—though given the Florida area code, it's not like Meinert has lost a customer. That said, McMahon is not without a Seattle connection. McMahon, 25, says he was born in Seattle, but moved to Florida 15 years ago. "I love Seattle," says McMahon. "I love Northgate Mall. I love everything about it."
And he also loves guns.
Other than the Glock and the AR-15 that happened to come up in casual conversation, McMahon wouldn't specify how many guns he owns, just that he owns more than one: "One for each situation, and they all have served their purpose." McMahon says that he got involved in the gun rights movement when he heard about President Obama's push for gun control—"Gun control is the stupidest thing I've ever heard," says McMahon—but he isn't a member of the NRA or any other gun rights group. He found out about Seattle's new Gun Free Zone program via Google News, saw the list of participating businesses, and took it upon himself to call them up and air his complaints.
"I will do anything to protect my city," insists McMahon. Like many of the most passionate gun rights advocates, McMahon lives in a world he apparently believes to be filled with deadly threats. He described an incident he says took place near his home, where he says a man was stabbed, beaten, thrown in a dumpster, doused with gasoline, and set afire. "I vowed I would never end up like that," McMahon solemnly declared, as if being stabbed, beaten, and set afire in a dumpster was some sort of common occurrence.
McMahon's argument against gun free zones is a simple one. He says that "criminals are cowardly, they're bullies, they like to go after easy targets," and thus it's crazy to leave innocent people defenseless. While agreeing that guns and alcohol don't mix—"I would never get drunk and handle a gun," McMahon soberly insists—he still defends allowing concealed carry in establishments that serve alcohol. Instead of a Gun Free Zone, McMahon suggests that "you should have a designated concealed carry holder, just like a designated driver" to keep you safe in case some other patron gets out of hand. Not exactly the kind of scenario where I would feel comfortable getting a drink, but it's a creative idea.
So if this Gun Free Zone idea is so crazy, why would business people like Meinert sign on? "The money," suspects McMahon. "It may be voluntary, but you know there's gotta be some kickbacks, you know they're getting some payoffs to do this."
Sounds unlikely. But I asked Meinert anyway. "Yes," admitted Meinert as he knocked back a whiskey at Lost Lake. "Mayor McGinn is paying me off." Except, no. He was just being sarcastic. "Jesus Christ, these people are fucking nuts," an exasperated Meinert added.
And for Meinert, the nuttiness isn't just hypothetical. Lost Lake has only been open for a few months, and "we've already had somebody come in here with a concealed weapons permit, and drop their gun, freaking everybody out," says Meinert. "You don't need a gun to order a burger and shake," declares Meinert, who insists that he's prepared to enforce the gun free zone restriction if patrons insist on testing it: "I'm not worried about losing any business. And even if we did lose business, it wouldn't change my decision."
But mostly, Meinert says he's participating in the program out of principle. "I don't believe that in itself a sticker in my window is going to keep gun violence from happening," explains Meinert. Though of course, that's not the point. "The conversation around guns is being dominated by propaganda from gun manufacturers, and very off-the-chart nutty gun fetish people, who repeat that propaganda," says Meinert, who sees the Gun Free Zone program as just part of a larger effort to change that conversation.
"We need to change the culture of the dialogue around gun ownership," says Meinert.
And that's a dialogue I'm not sure gun rights advocates like McMahon really want to have.