We cannot tip-toe around this subject: It is time to ban weapons from protests and rallies.
Public safety is at stake. Police cannot adequately monitor potentially incendiary gatherings, with rhetoric running long and tempers spiking high, when participants are brandishing guns and rifles. And for multiple reasons, the zeitgeist in the country right now is compelling throngs of citizens with varying ideals and beliefs to protest.
We firmly support the rights set forth in the First Amendment for freedom of speech and for “the people peaceably to assemble.” This means all people, not just the ones whose views align with ours.
After the violence in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, calls have been made to restrict hate groups such as the white supremacists from publicly protesting. That would be wrong. It would only serve to send their vile messages underground to fester and would be counter to the ideals of free speech and of assembly.
The answer to hate speech is more speech. That is how hundreds of thousands of people responded last weekend in rallies from Boston to Portland, Oregon, spurred by what happened in Virginia over the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a public park.
Would banning the carrying of weapons — whatever can’t be brought on a plane — from protests equal the collision of two rights? No. The First Amendment rights of free speech and of peaceable assembly coexist with the Second Amendment right to carry arms. We support both rights.
But reasonable restrictions must be made for public safety and the protection of “peaceable” assembly. Municipalities issue permits for rallies and protests and already regulate aspects, such as where the groups can gather. Stipulating that weapons are not allowed would be part of the local permit requirements.
Weapons can be used for threatening and intimidating, as evidenced in photos of neo-Nazis and self-appointed militias waving guns at the Charlottesville demonstrations. Their presence can further inflame heightened emotions.
Though the violence of two weeks ago in which one counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed and 19 others injured is foremost, there are other instances that underlie the need to ban weapons at these public gatherings. When President Donald Trump spoke at a rally organized by his re-election committee in Phoenix last Monday, for example, a supporter from Tucson came “armed with a .357-caliber gun to defend Trump supporters if things got out of hand,” the Washington Post reported. Can you imagine the melee if the supporter had thought things were “out of hand” and started shooting? Protection belongs in the trained hands of security.
Given the atmosphere in the country right now, this issue will not dissipate as quickly as summer’s humidity.
Next month, a “Dixie Freedom Rally,” aimed at promoting the “true Confederate heritage,” is planned for Austin, Texas. Undoubtedly, there will be more.
We defend the right to rally as a form of free speech, but to protect the right to peaceably assemble, weapons must be restricted.