West Plains man stirs controversy by carrying AR-15 near parade

December 19, 2015 in News by D



James Collins just walks, but the sidewalk has become a tightrope. That’s because of what he carries.

Strapped across his back is an AR-15 rifle with the muzzle pointed towards the ground.  It’s perfectly legal for him to carry it — openly.

“I just want to have the extra protection to defend myself and defend my family,”  Collins said on Thursday.

The national controversy about guns has come to West Plains, a town where Police Chief Jeff Head says, “Well, down here in this neck of the woods, everybody owns guns.”

Head and others want to know why Collins couldn’t carry a handgun instead of an AR-15.

“I’m more trained on this than any other handgun. I know how it works. It’s just what I’m used to,” said Collins.

Collins says he was recently discharged from the Army because of a knee inury before he was ever deployed.

“The whole time, my whole service, I had to sleep, eat and train with my rifle, so I feel pretty partial to it,” he said.

On Saturday morning, Collins says police tried to restrict his Second Amendment right.  He was walking through a high traffic area in the middle of West Plains just a few hours before the Christmas parade was going to pass through.

“It’s actually the city’s largest parade of the year and they were getting set up for it,” said Sgt. Brian Bunch.

Bunch says, in 19 years on the West Plains force, he had never come across any civilians openly carrying a semi-automatic rifle.  Suddenly, dozens of people began to call 911.

“All our phone lines were lit up,” said Bunch.

So police went to find and confront Collins.

The first interaction between West Plains police and Collins can be seen in an officer’s bodycam video.

“You know he was causing panic within our citizens of West Plains,” said Bunch.

“They stopped me twice. The first time they were really respectful. They just asked me what my intent was and they could clearly see I was non-threatening,” said Collins.

Police Chief Head says what appears threatening to a family going to the parade and what looks threatening to officers might be different.

“It makes you wonder: ‘What is the definition of threatening?'” said Head.

Strangers driving by couldn’t immediately tell if Collins was a good guy or a bad guy.

“I don’t blame the people getting scared about it but that’s being scared about the right person, is what they should be worried about,” said Collins.

“It’s not the gun, it’s the person carrying the gun,” said Head.

Police didn’t have reason to believe Collins was dangerous at the time.

“We didn’t see anything that was out of ordinary, as far as mental status.  We told him he was free to go,” said Bunch.

Head and Bunch say there’s a fine line in policing this type of situation. Officers have to strike a difficult balance.

“We’re in a tough spot. You’ve got concerned citizens that are calling. They’re in fear, especially with everything that’s going on throughout the world, but yet he has his Second Amendment right,” said Bunch.