The LA Times published an editorial Wednesday titled “Don’t restrict free speech. Restrict the right to carry guns at potentially explosive public events.” The argument is that free speech is too important to restrict but, for safety’s sake, police should be willing to tell people no guns allowed at outdoor rallies. And as the Times points out, it’s not just right-wing gun owners bringing weapons to these rallies.
Virginia is a preemption state that also allows open carry, and the nation saw the results at Charlottesville, where paramilitary militias — men heavily armed with military-style weapons and in some cases battle gear — appeared as part of the “Unite the Right” rally. But far-left groups, including the so-called Redneck Revolt, a liberal pro-gun group, have also paraded around with their firearms at various demonstrations.
That last link is a reference to armed members of Redneck Revolt who showed up in Phoenix last night, but the same group was also present in Charlottesville. The group’s own report on the situation says they had 20 members on the street, most carrying rifles:
Today, with hundreds more white supremacists expected to converge on Charlottesville, our Redneck Revolt branches worked together with local organizers to create and secure a staging area at Justice Park, within a short distance of the planned Unite the Right rally location, Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park). Approximately 20 Redneck Revolt members created a security perimeter around the park, most of them open-carrying tactical rifles.
I’m not sure why the Times failed to point out that there were armed, left-wing militia members in Charlottesville except perhaps that it tends to support what Trump said about there being violence (or the potential for it) on many sides. In any case, the Times suggests this is too dangerous to allow it to continue:
This is a problem that the nation must resolve. A group of self-organized, trained and heavily armed men (and these groups are predominantly male) is a paramilitary organization, and giving it megaphones and parade banners doesn’t magically transform it into something peaceful. Adding “open carry” to a contentious event can put public safety at risk, and the presence of visible firearms creates unique problems for the police…
It’s not the right to speech and assembly that should be restricted; it’s the right to carry guns in certain potentially explosive situations. Gun advocates like to argue they have the right to bear arms as a bulwark against tyrannical government, but government has a responsibility here as well: to keep people safe.
I suspect the editorial writers for the LA Times are not gun owners and, maybe, don’t know any gun owners. But it’s worth noting that despite having two ostensibly opposing groups of armed people in Charlottesville, no shots were fired. It wasn’t the gun owners who got violent, it was the kids with flagpoles and one nut with a muscle car.
I’m not a lawyer so maybe there is some sort of time and place exception that could be used by local police when doling out permits. But it seems to me that, ultimately, the state can’t dole out one constitutional right to be exercised at a time. We don’t get to have the First Amendment only if we agree to give up the Second, at least I hope not.