Monday, Aug. 26, 2013

Kochanski's Concertina Held a Pro-Gun Rally Yesterday

By Evan Rytlewski
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Gun politics were always going to be the elephant in the room after Andy Kochanski, owner of Kochanski's Concertina Beer Hall, shot and killed a robbery suspect at his bar earlier this month, but for a while there seemed to be no need to dwell on them. In the aftermath of the shooting, neighbors of all political beliefs rallied around Kochanski, praising him for protecting his patrons and showing their support on Facebook, where they pledged not to let the incident deter them from frequenting his bar or the neighborhood. Inevitably these comment threads attracted tough talk from gun-rights advocates, some of them more righteous about the need to put "thugs" in their place than others, but for the most part the discourse remained civil. Everybody was in agreement it would be a shame to let this tragedy soil a historic neighborhood bar.

If in the immediate aftermath of the shooting Kochanski seemed an unwitting posterchild for standing your ground, though, lately he seems to be welcoming the role. Yesterday, his bar hosted a concealed carry class which attracted a sold-out crowd and a whole lot of media attention, thanks to what was effectively a pro-gun rally before the class. Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., who recently attracted national attention for an unusual radio spot in which he encouraged citizens to defend themselves with firearms instead of dialing 911, spoke to a crowd of more than 100 about the need to expedite the return of guns to citizens who deploy their weapons in self-defense. Clarke, who donned his now-signature cowboy hat, was joined by right-wing radio host Vicki McKenna.

In a Facebook post last week, Kochanski wrote "The event that happened on Thursday night was a horrible thing. This shouldn't be turned into some political thing." But by hosting a rally with two divisive political figures, he hardly seems to be downplaying the politics of the situation. Last week he also revealed a design for a T-shirt that reads "I Standski With Kochanski," a slogan that seems intended, if not to politicize the event, then at least to offer a proud reminder of it. These don't seem like the actions of a business owner looking to distance himself from a tragedy.

I'm not trying to accuse Kochanski or the second-amendment advocates who celebrate him of being out of bounds. They have legitimate views, and they deserve a forum to express them—and if gun supporters happen to do so in a way that buoys an important local business that's been put in a delicate situation, so much the better. But by trumpeting the shooting and offering constant reminders of it, Kochanski risks putting off the sizable percentage of his patrons who don't have strong pro-gun views. He's letting an ugly incident define what had previously been a fun place where people came to escape these kinds of hot-button issues and just kick back with some polka. Kochanski's Concertina Beer Hall already had a claim to fame: It is Milwaukee's last concertina bar, the proud torch carrier of a local tradition that risks being lost with time. It'd be a waste if that proud identity was scrubbed and it became known instead as a gun bar.
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