Jami Gensler’s 2-month-old daughter was safely snuggled Sunday in a baby carrier — her little fingers protruding from beneath a blanket just low enough to touch the hammer of her mom’s holstered handgun.
The mother-daughter duo were in downtown Toledo with 35 others for a peaceful walk that included a variation of weapons. Many carried handguns such as 40-caliber pistols, while others had AR-15 rifles on their backs. One man carried a shotgun and an ammunition belt strapped diagonally across his chest — flush with shells.
PHOTO GALLERY: Northwest Ohio Carry rally
They were there to make a point and raise awareness.
Jeremy Gensler, Mrs. Gensler’s husband and president of Northwest Ohio Carry, helped organize the group’s first public walk to teach people that anyone who can legally purchase a firearm can carry it openly without any permit or license.
“A lot of people out there think they can’t carry a gun to protect themselves, so we want to raise awareness,” said Mr. Gensler, a Bowling Green resident.
The group started on Facebook earlier this year and now has 438 followers.
D.J. Smith, the group’s vice president, holstered his 40-caliber Sig Sauer for the romp around downtown that started at Monroe and Ontario streets, moved north on Summit Street, west on Cherry Street, and then southward to pass in front of the Lucas County jail as well as One Government Center.
Mr. Smith, like many of the others, is against gun control that would take firearms out of people’s hands or restrict sales.
He said national tragedies like the shooting Newtown, Conn., or more recently at the Washington Navy Yard — where a naval contractor armed with a shotgun killed 12 people and wounded a dozen more last week before being killed by the police — are wrongly used by gun opponents.
“All those victims in Washington were unable to protect themselves,” Mr. Smith said.
Stephan Recknagel, 29, who was toting an AR-15 on his back and a Glock 23 40-caliber pistol on his waist, said promoting awareness on gun ownership is important.
“We are not out here trying to be vigilantes,” Mr. Recknagel said. “No one wants to take a life, but should I be backed into a corner and be forced to defend myself, I will do whatever I can do to protect me and my family.”
The group marched with a flag reading, “Don’t tread on me.”
As usual for a Sunday morning, the sidewalks of downtown had just a few pedestrians, but motorists slowed to see the well-armed group.
Misty Shooter pushed a baby stroller and armed herself with a 9mm Kahr pistol for the event.
“It makes me feel safer since I have children,” Ms. Shooter said.
Two Toledo police officers in a marked van stopped the group on Cherry Street to ask why so many had guns.
Mr. Smith said they were all legally carrying the firearms.
“Even that big gun there?” responded the female officer driving the van.
The officers pulled away after the female officer said “be careful” and the armed group continued its march.
Marches like the one downtown Sunday are becoming more common, said Toby Hoover, executive director of the Toledo-based Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.
“They are bothering people,” Ms. Hoover said. “If you put that in a regular neighborhood or park, people don’t want their families around guns, whether they are openly carried or concealed.”
She said those kind of demonstrations send the wrong signals to others.
“Many of those people have not been through any training or background check and they can get a gun and carry it,” she said. “So what are we doing? Is this a better world of a better culture if they are walking around carrying AR-15 rifles?”
Contact Ignazio Messina at: email@example.com, 419-724-6171, or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.