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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications, Published December 20 2012

Grand Forks mayor has ‘no qualms’ about packing heat

GRAND FORKS – The Connecticut school shooting that killed 27 is one reason Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown packs heat.

Not many know it, but the part-time mayor and full-time obstetrician at Altru Hospital has a permit to carry a concealed handgun and he does, sometimes at local restaurants or even at an occasional city meeting.

“I don’t want to be a victim,” said Brown, 61. “And I think it’s the responsible thing to do to protect those you love, and anyone.”

The handgun he carries concealed is a small 9 mm Kahr semi-automatic that takes up little space. For safety, he does not keep a round in the chamber.

“The Second Amendment protects the First Amendment,” Brown said. “But deadly force is only to protect life. To use it to protect property would be inappropriate.”

Brown, an Air Force veteran, said he is a lifetime “patron” National Rifle Association member, a top-tier form of membership, and loves to target shoot his many handguns and rifles at local gun clubs.

“I’ve been into shooting sports since I was 6,” said the mayor, who is in his 10th year in office. “It’s something fathers, parents, pass on to their children.” He taught his son and daughter – now in their 20s – to safely handle and shoot guns.

Brown is a good customer at local sports stores that sell guns and loves just admiring them.

“I have two or three .223s,” he said, of the M16-based military-style rifles so popular with hunters and sport shooters. It’s also popular with criminals such as the man who used such a gun to kill 20 elementary school children and seven adults last week in Newtown, Conn.

It appears the Connecticut shooting had more to do with mental health issues than with something that would be solved by more gun control laws, Brown said.

Background checks only make sense and he faced much more stringent ones in the military, he said.

His four years as a missile launch officer, then six years as a physician in the Air Force gave him the discipline and training needed to handle guns safely and well, Brown said.

Being a missile launch officer meant carrying a sidearm at all times and being psychologically prepared to use it to kill, he said.

Brown also just loves shooting guns for the sport of it, more than a hobby such as golf.

“It’s like yoga,” he said. “While you shoot, you have to relax. You can’t describe it, it’s an inner peace. There is a satisfaction to that.”

Brown says many in city government know he has a concealed-carry permit, but that the subject hasn’t been discussed much.

“I know he’s a gun guy, but I didn’t know he had a concealed carry permit,” said Council member Terry Bjerke. “I’m all for it. The more law-abiding citizens who conceal carry, the better off we are.”

Bjerke, in fact, says he’s pretty much decided he, too, will finally apply for a concealed carry permit. “For personal protection, Second Amendment rights.”

Other council members and city officials said they knew about the mayor carrying a gun at times and saw it as no big deal.

Brown said he keeps up on state and federal laws, and also has permits from Minnesota and Utah because the reciprocities involved allow him to carry a gun across the country. He and his wife have a condo on Marco Island, Fla., where he also carries a gun at times.

“Delta (Air Lines) is great,” he said, because he just notifies them in advance and he has no problem taking a gun along on a flight.

His wife, Dr. Ann Brown, is a pathologist at Altru and did get concealed carry permit with him years ago, when the testing still required score-keeping shooting sessions.

“She always reminded me that she scored higher than I did,” he said.

Brown said he only “used” his privately-owned gun once. While in college at Baylor University in Texas in the early 1970s, he was accosted at a gas station by a group of young men.

“I had a handgun in the back seat, and I just reached back and put it up on the dash,” he said. “They saw it and said, ‘We were just funning with you’ and took off.”

But it’s knowing he has the means to protect his family or others that makes it worth the $25 permit every three years, he said.

“I think you’re entitled to defend your family,” he said. “I have no qualms about that.”

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Lee writes for the Grand Forks Herald