A man who works at a Leeds pawn shop said he wasn’t trying to intimidate voters when he showed up at a Roebuck polling place openly carrying a gun.
Richard Rutledge, a former Roebuck Springs-South Roebuck Neighborhood Association president and former conservative political candidate, said he was carrying his gun in his holster for the same reason he does every day: he works in a pawn shop with money and around dangerous people.
“I was on my way to work. I put my gun on every morning,” Rutledge said. “I’m handling money and… dealing with crack addicts and heroin addicts and everything else all day, working in a pawn shop. Everybody in here is armed. To me, it’s like putting my pants on in the morning.”
Rutledge is a well-known conservative who ran unsuccessfully to represent District 2 in the Birmingham City Council in 2005 and 2013. He also ran unsuccessfully for Alabama House District 58 in 2006. His Facebook postings show him, among other things, posing with children and politicians and engaged in a prayer march in Birmingham’s mostly black Gate City neighborhood. His Facebook page also includes images equating the Obama administration with fascism, and standing in a crowd behind twice-ousted Chief Justice Roy Moore, formerly of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Rutledge said “it kind of makes me a little ill” that someone thought he went to the polls to intimidate voters.
Still, Rutledge’s appearance at the Don A. Hawkins Recreational Center in Roebuck caused quite a stir. It came during an election where supporters of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump — many of them proponents of openly carrying weapons — have declared their intent to show up to the polls to prevent voter fraud, while opponents have contended that gun-carrying activists are intending to intimidate minority voters.
Alarmed by Rutledge’s appearance at the community center, some took to social media.
“Went to vote this morning,” wrote Betsy Ogle on the I Believe in Birmingham Facebook Page. “Ran into a neighbor in the parking lot with a weapon strapped to his belt…. Needless to say he is a Trump fan. It was intimidating, frightening, and unnecessary!”
Her comment led to a stream of responses by other posters who weighed in on Rutledge’s right to bear arms and offered opinions on whether he intended to intimidate voters by being there with his gun showing. One poster, current Roebuck Springs Neighborhood Association President Robert Walker, actually went down to Hawkins rec center where, he said, he intended to confront Rutledge, whom he knows.
Walker, who lives in the east Birmingham neighborhood of Wahouma, arrived at the polling place about an hour after Rutledge left. “I read about it on Facebook and I immediately came up here to see what was the problem,” he said.
“My intent was to get here and confront him face-to-face and let him know that this is unacceptable. Even though it is his constitutional right to carry a weapon, we understand that. But we also understand exactly what he’s doing and that’s to intimidate voters from voting,” Walker said. “I was going to put an end to it.”
Rutledge, contacted on the job at Byron’s Jewelry Pawn in Leeds, said the whole thing is a misunderstanding.
“I know a bunch of folks at the polls, and I was just there having cordial conversations with people, both black and white,” he said. He labeled the allegations that he intended to intimidate voters “a bunch of bullcrap… I’m armed every day because of my job.
“I don’t think about having a weapon on. I’m carrying one every day,” he said. “If you see me out I’m going to have a weapon on.”
Rutledge said he walked in to vote and walked out, and was having a conversation with a couple of neighbors when a woman he knows, but not by name, confronted him about his gun. “There was one lady who walked up and got belligerent with me in the parking lot, [saying] that I made her sick because I had a weapon on.”
Rutledge said the woman was a part of “an attack and slander campaign” waged against him and his family. In 2009, neighborhood resident Everett Wess, unsuccessfully tried to have Rutledge removed as president of the Roebuck Springs-South Roebuck Neighborhood Association. Later that same year, Rutledge and District 2 Councilor Carol Duncan leveled accusations against each other alleging harassment.
The unidentified woman who confronted him about the weapon has a political and personal grudge against him, Rutledge said.
Rutledge also said that he would never reach for his weapon unnecessarily “or do anything untoward when I’m carrying a weapon. I do everything I can to prevent a confrontation of any kind with anybody while I’m carrying…. I’m the last guy in the world you’ll ever see intimidate somebody with a weapon.”
Walker said that while he accepts the idea that Rutledge carries a gun because he works in the pawn shop, “he was here today to intimidate voters. There’s a big difference.”
Walker said he would be alert to any attempts to intimidate voters. “This is not the ‘60s anymore. This is not the ‘50s. We are not going to be intimidated about voting.”