RVer Safety: Some thoughts on KOA manager pulling gun on couple, and Update


By Mike Sherman

KOA manager pulls gun on unregistered campers

From RVtravel.com
May 29, 2019

A KOA campground manager will be seeking new employment. The employee of the KOA park in Starkville, Mississippi, has been fired after a cell phone video showed her holding a handgun while ordering a couple to leave because they did not have a reservation.

The couple said they were told at the front office they did not need a reservation to picnic at Oktibbeha County Lake. After realizing she was being recorded by the phone camera, the manager quit pointing the weapon at the couple and put it in her pocket.  (You can continue reading the article here.)

I was in shock! We strive to bring you information each Saturday that can help you with safety and security issues as you RV across America. However, last Saturday’s RVTravel.com article was quite the surprise.

I often ask, “What would you do?” when faced with dangers that are out there. Scenarios are suggested, with what we hope are thought-provoking ideas and comments. They usually generate a lot of feedback: your comments are smart and informative for all the readers to  learn from and sometimes enjoy.

This particular incident is new to me. I can’t recall a time when a management employee of a nationwide camping chain was implicated in pulling a gun on guests of the park. I’ve talked with parents who camp only in KOA facilities because they are large, well-staffed and cater to families with several child-friendly amenities. The parents say they feel very safe in a KOA campground. I’m fairly confident guns are not permitted on KOA property, as is the case with most developed campgrounds. For a manager to confront the couple, while actually pointing the gun at them, is just over the top. The manager has been fired, the couple have contacted an attorney, and local law enforcement authorities are conducting a criminal investigation.

Some avoid KOA for a variety of reasons: too large, too noisy, too many kids, packed in like sardines. If you are traveling solo or its just you and your partner, KOA might not be that enjoyable. But if you have kids, need full services including cable TV, a swimming pool, game room, etc., then KOA is for you. Your children will meet other children in the playgrounds and make new friends. KOA serves a niche, and with millennials becoming a major RV market factor, they will experience corporate growth because “if you build it, they will come.”

Back in the ’50s it was a totally different story. We experienced state and federal campgrounds, primitive, and if the family was having all the relatives join in, we would rent several sites. The adults would take up their sites, but the kids were all put together in their own sites. So we kids had our section, and the adults had theirs. It was more fun catching a fish in the nearby stream than “surfing the Internet.” My, how times have changed! It is hard to imagine Smokey Bear pulling a gun on us.

Question: Does KOA corporate have any responsibility in this incident? Should the ex-manager be charged criminally for her actions? Your thoughts would be interesting to those following this incident.

UPDATE: Wednesday, June 5, from Yahoo.com: “Former Kampgrounds of America employee Ruby Howell was arrested on Tuesday for threatening a black couple with a gun, according to the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office in Starkville, Miss. The 70-year-old is reportedly charged with threatening exhibition of a weapon.” According to CNN.com: “She is scheduled to be in court June 25.” Stay tuned.

Note: We know what we discuss in this column may be controversial. While we invite your polite, constructive comments, inflammatory remarks will be immediately deleted.

Mike Sherman is a retired street cop and investigator with 30+ years of RV experience as a traveler, camp host and all-around advocate for the joys of living on the road. His articles are for general discussion purposes only – you should always consult your local authorities or legal counsel for specific answers if necessary. Write him at MikeShermanPI@gmail.com if you have questions, or leave a comment below. 

Read more RVer Safety articles here.


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Sadly, Mike, for an old lady in Mississippi, this is far TOO believable. Remember, this woman has lived in and was raised during times of ridiculous levels of racism. I am just a little younger than her and I can remember the “colored only” bathrooms and water fountains and other nonsense like that. That being said, under NO circumstance do you come out packing heat because a young couple is having a picnic, and I don’t care WHAT color their skin is. To leave right and wrong aside for a second, we are talking about what is supposed to be… Read more »

Patrick Granahan

Amazing ! It seems that RVTravel.com readers are authorities on all the gun laws of all states.
More amazing is the depth of details readers have as to the motivations of all parties involved in this incident.
Seems like KOA. and this campground owner might do a better job of screening employees.

If you are a licensed permit holder you should know the guidelines for the display and/or
use of deadly force….unlawful picnicking is not a cause for use of deadly force….the pistol packing KOA employee is in BIG TROUBLE !!!


Another reason to avoid KOAs is their prices are too high.

Michael Flank

Without having all the exact facts it is difficult to speculate what actually happened. However, if the manager witnessed trespassers that were unwilling to vacate then call the local law enforcement agency to take action. There are too many crazy peop!e in this world to allow yourself to be confronted by who knows who.


Roundabout in this mess, people have danced around the question of “whether KOA bans firearms,” so I’ll stick the convoluted answer here. 1) KOA CORPORATE policy is to ban sidearms (and in the same regulation line, explosives?!?) 2) KOA sites are franchised PRIVATE property, so corporate has NO authority, making #1 moot. 3) As private property, the owner DOES have final say. If a ban is posted, handed to you in paperwork, etc, you ARE VERY BANNED. Don’t enter with guns, don’t carry concealed against their will, don’t give them your business. Let them know why they ARE going to… Read more »

Andy Zipser

As a former KOA campground franchisee, I can affirm points no. 2 and 3. But I just don’t understand the claim that it’s less responsible to leave a gun under lock and key than to carry it on one’s person at all times. What do you do when you use a campground pool, swimming lake or bathhouse–or does that never happen? Frankly, in my opinion it’s the height of irresponsibility not to have a secure locked compartment for your firearms.


Totally agreed on needing the lockbox, and I have a good one for “swimming” type necessities and untrained guests. That said, I could crack most lockboxes given a reasonable window of time (thus arming a thief), so I prefer the direct control of it being on me at all reasonable times. I very rarely use pools or bathhouses, but that’s a lesser point. Perhaps surprisingly, I do kayak with it in a waterproof bag for bear or banjos (lol), because its no help to me locked up.

Cheryl Bacon

I agree with those that said this is a one-sided story. None of us were there and it leaves a lot open for speculation. First of all, it is really hard to believe this couple was naive enough to think it would be ok to use the facilities without 1) registering and paying a fee and 2) without an area reserved. Their actions prove that thought by the fact that they ignored signs to Stop, and sign in at the office. I have never been to a KOA were even guests of RVers staying there are not at least asked… Read more »


There is just too much speculation and not enough facts to actually draw an informed conclusion. However the lady should not have had the weapon out. It should have been concealed (IMHO) and apparently in the opinion of the county sheriff. Claims of racism etc. just get in the way of actually getting to the truth of the matter. We do not have enough facts because the “news reporter” did not provide an adequate amount of balanced information for us to draw decisions for ourselves (not to mention it differs from the video); which seems typical in the news coverage… Read more »

John Koenig

In NY, that could be considered Menacing (a Misdemeanor) which IS a “Criminal Act”. I’m glad the victims captured the incident on camera. Barring unusual circumstances, I doubt KOA corporate would be found culpable BUT, the OWNER of that particular KOA has some explaining to do. I expect a monetary windfall for the victims.

Regina Bridges

I have my legal license to carry a fire arm in Texas. The education class on the laws and “reason” behind getting the license is for your own protection and others safety. You leave the class knowing how to use and when ..not to use. Obviously this chick did not get educated in forearms and dealing with people. She broke many rules and should be fired from her responsibility because she does not know how to approach people. It takes people skills to “listen” to campers and then explain the violation as to sort out amicably the situation and come… Read more »

Gigi R

I’m with Lisa, I don’t think this would have happened with a white couple. as for the dog it looks like a mix of something small with a hint of pit bull. But it’s fat and looks like a spoiled family pet.
I am surprised at most the comments here. It does not seem this lady acted with any respect or politeness to this couple. After all, people are people.

Henry clay

Racist much? Seriously, the race card has no place in this discussion!

Sharon B

Mississippi is still lives in the dark ages. This KOA gun lady should have had better sense. She could have been shot herself. Now hearing this was a black couple makes it even worse. This employee of KOA should face criminal charges definitely!!!! However, KOA should review company policies with all employees so it it very clear. I realize dealing with the public can be an awful experience, but if you can’t handle the simple things like this then get the hell out of that position!


Thanks for writing off an entire state as being in the dark ages. No elitist bigotry there!

If “she could have been shot” more likely than any other day, you are saying she was threatened by the couple? I didn’t read they were armed, but maybe you assume all blacks are thugs?

…and IF I said “it’s worse for a white to be threatened by a black,” that would be clearly racist…so is your statement that threatening blacks would be in any way “worse.”

Abe Loughin

I don’t feel that KOA corporate should be held responsible. I workcamp for another large corporate chain of campground/resorts and the training really cover policies.
I DO feel the ex-employee should face criminal charges. Brandishing a firearm in a non-life threatening situation is, was, and always will be wrong. Not to mention extremely dangerous to bystanders. That said, I also believe that law abiding citizen have the right, if not responsibility, to legally arm and protect themselves.

David Alexander

Read Pennsylvania decision, Commonwealth V Hicks. Recent decision. Showing a gun in public is not a crime. Over 2 million crimes are prevented by a person having a gun and not using it.

Greg Illes

Permission to carry does not constitute permission to act inappropriately. What we see as “bad judgement” is covered by one or more statutes. She will likely get a fine and maybe community service or something similar. More to the point: what in hell was she thinking? Why did she feel it was okay to display deadly force? There was nothing in any reporting about the black couple acting in any threatening or intimidating fashion. KOA is absolutely not responsible, any more than the USPS is responsible for a disgruntled postal worker shooting up an office. BUT – – – KOA… Read more »

Sharon B

I totally agree with you Greg. However, since KOA employees deal with the public KOA needs to go over their policies and protections of their employees if a situation should arise and recommendations on how to handle a situation like this. These people were only having a picnic. They were not camping.

David Alexander

Now if an employee gets shot and killed, the family can sue KOA for not allowing employees to protect themselves.


Brandishing a firearm is NOT displaying deadly force. Especially since she did not have the firearm pointed at the couple at any time!

Mike Sherman

The couple claimed she pointed the gun at them when she approached, based on the original report.


This also reflects what I feel is the KOA way.

Andrew Stoy

If she has a permit, take it away. If not, take the gun away. We have to stop arming criminals, drunks, the mentally ill and the stupid.


I can’t imagine that KOA doesn’t have a firearms prohibition for employees. Her prior experiences should have driven her to call the authorities not try to resolve the situation by herself. If she felt she was totally in the “right” why did she “holster” her weapon? (Holster is a stretch because she put it into her pocket.) Trespassing? Nope they said they had permission (otherwise you’d think the Sheriff would have stated they were cited). Menacing, yep she was. Dangerous action yep. She brought an un-holstered weapon. That is reckless endangerment. She appears to have “planned” the confrontation because she… Read more »

Rick Vollstedt

I don’t feel KOA Corp had any responsibility in this situation. It was the ex-manager who took it upon herself to confront the couple with a gun. ALthough if there’s a lawsuit, I’m sure Corp will be named, big pockets. If the ex-manager thought there would be some altercation she could have or should have asked another KOA employee to accompany her. The many KOA campgrounds I’ve stayed, there is typically several employees (male) nearby. She used very poor judgement and should be arrested for her actions.


There is no doubt the manager overreacted but, we don’t know what previous experience and encounters might have prompted her to feel the need to brandish a weapon. And now because she did and was caught on video, lots of folks are all aghast and wanting a pound of flesh because there was a gun involved. Of course being a Caucasian woman and a Black couple in Mississippi just adds fuel to the outrage being expressed by many people. Bottom line is, the woman did indeed use poor judgment and the picnicking couple probably had gotten permission. Whoever gave that… Read more »

John Lock

I too was shocked at the video that circulated of this KOA manager’s use of a weapon. However, at least twice in your article you state that she “pointed the gun” at the guests. That’s incorrect and inflammatory. I watched the video again and she held it at her side until she put it in her pocket. Now… maybe in the police report the couple says she pointed it at them. I don’t know and neither does any one else, except those three people. I’m not condoning her actions. She was fired and arrested and that’s how it should have… Read more »

Mike Sherman

The victims claimed she pointed the gun at them based on the original story. Apparently the video started after she dropped the weapon to her side.

David Scheeler

Although I don’t agree with the manager brandishing a gun in this situation, I do think you have mislead the readers by writing that the couple was “guests of the park”. I find it hard to believe that they were told it was okay to picnic without paying. As someone who stays at KOAs, they don’t give anything out for free.


I lived at this KOA park for over a year and, yes, I know this manager well. To the point, people have picnicked free of charge before


Looks like we might actually get some info! Does manager normally carry? Gave permission for freebie picnics, or it just happened anyway? Problems around the park? Inquiring minds want to know!

Mike Sherman

I did not write the original news account.

William J. Lewis

People are ruled by fear these days, The TV contributes to that fear, however, all these folks fear is the idea of violence. Most have never experienced that violence, they have just heard about it and are afraid of their own shadow. Here, the “picnic-er” was a Sgt. in the military with 2 tours in Iraq.
On Memorial day nonetheless. In general, unless it required for their job, people who carry guns are fearful, that is why they carry guns, they Fear what “could” happen.

Ed D.

It is hard to believe that a Manager of an RV Park would have a gun on them during working hours. The Authorities were right to arrest her. This begs the question: What if the couple refused to leave? What if one (or both) of them moved towards her? There are so many scenarios as to how this could have played out. Fortunately, no one was hurt!
I am not sure if KOA has anything built into their Management Training Manuals pertaining to guns. But if they don’t, they should!