Alex Brandon
FILE - In this July 20, 2012, file photo, a row of different AR-15 style rifles are displayed for sale at the Firing-Line indoor range and gun shop in Aurora, Colo.

SALT LAKE CITY — Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s smart.

Generally speaking, you can legally make a rude or vulgar gesture to another driver on the road, but it isn’t advisable, especially if that person is bigger than you or owes an allegiance to a street gang.

Despite popular opinion and the words of a long-dead Supreme Court justice, you may indeed falsely yell “fire” in a crowded theater without necessarily violating the law, but if you cause a panic, you could be in a lot of trouble.

And if you openly carry an AR-15 rifle on your shoulder as you get a drink at the Maverik?

Well, you wouldn’t be violating any laws — not in Utah or most other states — but you could cause nearby schools to go into lockdown. You might even induce the kind of panic that could cause another person legally carrying a firearm to do something rash.

Is that a wise thing? Is it good citizenship?

The Deseret News reported that students at Rockwell Charter High School and Black Ridge Elementary in Eagle Mountain were temporarily locked in their classrooms while police investigated a man with an AR-15 at a nearby Maverik two weeks ago today. This was the same day students nationwide planned to temporarily walk out of school in response to the mass murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, the latest in a string of school shootings.

The man in the Maverik acted within the law, a police sergeant said, but “his timing was terrible.” No kidding. Given the circumstances, you also could say it was cruel.

But what, exactly, would be good timing for such a thing?

It would seem a number of people are trying to answer that question all over the land. Provocatively carrying loaded weapons into public places has become a pastime, of sorts, by some.

And so you find the occasional news stories, such as of a man who walked into a Kroger store in Virginia with an AR-15. He was questioned by police, but no charges were filed.

The Washington Post did a feature two years ago on Jim Cooley, a 51-year-old Georgia man who won’t go to Wal-Mart or, for that matter, the Atlanta airport, without an AR-15 around his shoulder. A reporter followed him and his reluctant wife, who tires of the regular encounters with police, on a simple soda run. Despite the weapon and the looks from other customers, they entered, paid and left with no one asking any questions.

And then there were the two young men who perhaps take first prize for poor decision-making. They entered a Dearborn, Michigan, police station wearing masks and body armor and carrying weapons and a camera for YouTube purposes. CNN reported they wanted to file a complaint about a traffic stop they felt was illegal.

Instead, they ended up on the floor as officers, guns drawn, threatened to “put a round in you …” unless their commands were obeyed. They were charged with a variety of things, including breach of peace and parading in a mask or disguise, but nothing related to the guns.

The police chief said it wasn’t a Second Amendment issue in his mind. "We had members of the public in our lobby that fled in fear for their safety. …”

As they may reasonably do in a convenience store.

Michigan Open Carry Inc., which advocates for Second Amendment rights, disavowed the police-station antics, saying it, “in no way supports the actions of these individuals.”

Not so with the Utah Shooting Sports Council and the Maverik gun-toter. Council Chairman Clark Aposhian said Maverik would have been within its rights to ask the man to leave, but some people have “an unnatural or unusual fear” of firearms, which shouldn’t justify criminal charges.

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But is that fear so unnatural in an age where mass shootings seem possible anywhere and at any time? Is it necessary to provoke people with semi-automatic weapons to prove a point?

Would a member of a racial minority, especially someone who looks to be of Middle-Eastern descent, be allowed to make a similar point without arrest?

At the least, these antics make it harder to distinguish the good guys from the bad.

For those of us who support the Second Amendment, it raises troubling questions about limits and provocations. Making a shopping run in a manner that puts nearby children in lockdown is hard to justify.

Freedom, as always, requires responsible behavior.