Gonzales settles gun-carrying man’s lawsuit
By BILL LODGE
Advocate staff writer
Published: Aug 31, 2008
Mark Marchiafava says he’s earned the right to wear his .357-caliber Magnum pistol in a hip holster in Gonzales.
And, he says at a local mall, city residents paid him to demonstrate that right.
“I wish the taxpayers of Gonzales knew just how much money it is,” the 55-year-old Marchiafava adds.
In January 2006, the longtime Baton Rouge resident was at the same mall, wearing the same pistol, when a Gonzales police officer asked him why he was carrying a gun.
Marchiafava says he told the officer that non-felons can legally carry firearms that are not concealed.
That exchange led to Marchiafava’s arrest on a count of illegal carrying of a weapon. The arrest led to an hours-long stay at the Ascension Parish Prison.
But the case later was dismissed, and Marchiafava’s bond and weapon were returned to him.
Marchiafava didn’t let the dispute fade away. He sued for violation of his constitutional right to bear arms. The city recently settled the case by paying Marchiafava an undisclosed amount of money.
“I can’t disclose any client confidences,” said Bradley C. Myers, a Baton Rouge attorney for the Gonzales Police Department. “The details are confidential, not the fact of the settlement.”
So why pay Marchiafava?
“It was just a business decision that everybody makes during a civil suit,” Myers said.
“There are risks in all litigation and costs to defend litigation,” Myers said, adding that city officials weighed those risks and costs before opting for a settlement.
Marchiafava won’t talk dollars and cents, either.
“The confidentiality agreement prevents me from disclosing that amount,” Marchiafava said.
But he said the settlement would “buy someone a brand-new motorcycle.”
“All of this could have been avoided,” Marchiafava said. “I kept telling them: ‘Don’t arrest me.’”
After his arrest, Marchiafava said, Police Chief Bill Landry told other people: “‘We have a policy of arresting anybody carrying any type of firearm without a concealed-gun permit.’
“It’s not the people who are openly carrying weapons that you need to worry about,” Marchiafava said. “It’s the people who carry concealed guns that you need to be concerned about.”
Marchiafava said he remains concerned that someone else may someday be arrested under similar circumstances because: “In Gonzales, the law is whatever the cops say it is.”
That’s not correct, Chief Landry said.
“We will follow the law as prescribed,” Landry said, adding that the law permits carrying a firearm in an unconcealed holster. But Landry will not discuss the case further.
“I’ve got no comment on that,” Landry said. “I’ve got no comment.”
Donald North, a professor at Southern University Law Center, said Marchiafava has the legal right to carry a firearm in a holster on his hip.
North says carrying the firearm in that manner falls under the same law that requires hunters to keep their shotguns and rifles on gun racks visible through the rear windows of their vehicles.
“If you’re not concealing it, the statute does not prohibit your carrying of that weapon,” North explained.
“This only applies to law-abiding citizens,” the professor said. “Convicted felons can’t do this.”
North adds that he is merely explaining the law, not advocating a particular behavior.
“I’m not trying to suggest we should go back to the days of the Wild West,” North said.
Marchiafava says he does not regret carrying the pistol — even when it draws unwelcome attention from police officers.
He says other people should exercise their right to lawfully carry firearms.
“When they (police officers) shoved a gun in my face, I was thinking: ‘These guys are dangerous.’ "