Support Increasing for Banning Guns at Public Demonstrations

New Orleans  There are practical steps that can be taken to prevent another Charlottesville, especially the armed and dangerous intimidation waiting to pull a trigger in the future.

Anthony Romero, the head of the ACLU, announced that they will not defend groups on free speech grounds who are seeking to march with guns in armed protests. Hear, hear!

An op ed in the Times by John Feinblatt who is the president of Everytown for Gun Safety makes a good case, much of which I will share now:

When militia members and white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Va., last Saturday with Nazi flags and racist placards, many of them alsocarried firearmsopenly, including semiautomatic weapons. They came to intimidate and terrify protesters and the police. If you read reports of the physical attacks they abetted, apparently their plan worked.

Those who came to Charlottesville openly carrying firearms were neither conveying a nonviolent political message, nor engaged in self-defense nor protecting hearth and home.

Plain and simple, public terror is not protected under the Constitution. That has been the case throughout history.

Under English common law, a group of armed protesters constituted a riot, and some American colonies prohibited public carry specifically because it caused public terror. During Reconstruction, the military governments overseeing much of the South responded to racially motivated terror (including the murder of dozens of freedmen and Republicans at the 1866 Louisiana Constitutional Convention) by prohibiting public carry either generally or at political gatherings and polling places. Later, in 1886, a Supreme Court decision, Presser v. Illinois, upheld a law forbidding groups of men to “parade with arms in cities and towns unless authorized.” For states, such a law was “necessary to the public peace, safety and good order.”

In other words, our political forebears would not have tolerated open carry as racially motivated terrorists practiced it in Charlottesville. They did not view open carry as protected speech. According to the framers, the First Amendment protected the right to “peaceably” — not violently or threateningly — assemble. The Second Amendment did not protect private paramilitary organizations or an individual menacingly carrying a loaded weapon. Open carry was antithetical to “the public peace.” Lawmakers were not about to let people take the law into their own hands, so they proactively and explicitly prohibited it.

Today, the law in most states is silent on open carry — and because most states do not explicitly prohibit it, it becomes de facto legal. All of this explains why some states sensibly and constitutionally reject the open-carry absolutists and prohibit open carry or regulate the carrying of guns at public demonstrations, or both. For instance, Alabama prohibits bringing a firearm to a public demonstration, and Maryland has a law prohibiting guns at demonstrations and similar public gatherings, after a warning.

Taking to town squares to yell past your political opponents is a rich American custom. Those public spaces and our rights to peaceable assembly and free speech make democratic self-government possible.

Open carry is not part of that tradition, and its history is that of a tool used for specifically racist ends. It corrodes our public spaces and infringes on our rights. It introduces terror and intimidation, where dialogue and debate should prevail.

Rejecting open carry is not about guns. Rejecting open carry is about rejecting terror and honoring fundamental American traditions. In Charlottesville, we saw the dystopian alternative — the most un-American racist and extremist hatred, turning our First and Second Amendment rights on their heads and trying to intimidate the rest of us into silence.

Some are showing the way. This has to stop.


Charlottesville Police Lame Excuse

New Orleans   Everyone but the President seems to understand that Charlottesville was an unmitigated disaster. In the wake of the violence and its deadly impact, cities, north and south, have been reinvigorated into taking quick action to remove divisive Confederate monuments in order not to offer platforms or excuses for future Charlottesvilles.

One focus has to be on how the police ended up as almost spectators letting the parties “fight it out,” rather than acting to ensure some modicum of crowd control. Surprisingly, the much maligned, and justly so, New Orleans Police Department is getting rare props for having made sure opposing sides were always separated during the long struggle to remove Confederate statuary in the city, reducing them to exchanging chants and catcalls. Other cities led by Baltimore have moved virtually overnight to get the job done and avoid conflict.

What did the Charlottesville police have to say for themselves? Listen carefully, there will be questions on this test.

The police said that they had talked to the organizers from the white supremacist and hater groups and had been assured that they would all be entering the park from one place. They deployed the police based on that information so were caught flatfooted and out of position to do much more than watch and try to catch up when instead the racists and neo-Nazis came swarming into Emancipation Park from several different directions.

Ok, let’s concede that Charlottesville is a small city, barely beating 50,000 folks soaking wet and the cop crew of a bit more than 100 officers was vastly understaffed and more Mayberry than mob-ready, but nonetheless let me know if anyone has ever heard a lamer excuse. Rather than being prepared, the police simply took the “word” of these hater-march organizers.

I’ll come back to that, but first, let me share a piece of Organizing Tradecraft 101: no organizer ever shares the exact plan for a march or rally with the police! The whole point is taking the street or whatever is available. A protest is about showing power and applying pressure. Organizers have their jobs, and they have to do them. The police have their job, and they have to do it. Every rookie organizer even on their first action knows that simple equation. We are the mouse, and they are the cat, and it is our job to roar. It is their job to be ready and draw the lines, while it is out job to push the boundaries and cross the lines.

But, my point is not just that the Charlottesville police were snookered, naive, and not ready for the big leagues. More worrisome is that they were gullible because they wanted to believe the good ol’ boy haters. They believed that because these were right wingers, they would respect the police and “play fair” because despite the difference in uniforms and even races, they were brothers in belief in law and order.

A protest on the left is met with horses, tanks, and police in military formation. A protest on the right is met with gloved handshakes and preparations for playing pattycake. Charlottesville is a case study of the consequences of such double standards.

The police in Charlottesville were suckered because they were willing to be suckered. They forgot the basic rules that define protesters of all stripes, the police and the public. The protesters are organized to make their points and demonstrate their positions to the public. The police are supposed to protect the public. There is no mutual interest except in the broadest outlines of the action, which normally preclude violence, but when the police allow protesters to be strapped up and heavily armed, how could they believe a word from such organizers and not be totally prepared for the worst case, which will now be defined for quite sometime by Charlottesville.


Please enjoy Six Blocks Away by Lucinda Williams.

Thanks to KABF.