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.