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In the demonstrations in the United States, now the arms speak

Across the United States, openly carrying a gun in public is no longer just an exercise in self-defense. Increasingly, it is a platform for raising one’s voice and, just as often, silencing someone else’s.

This month, armed protesters appeared outside a polling place in Phoenix, throwing baseless accusations that the gubernatorial election had been stolen Republican Kari Lake.

In October, the group Proud Boys with guns joined a rally in Nashville where conservative lawmakers spoke out against transgender medical treatments for minors.

In June, armed demonstrations across the United States numbered nearly one a day. A group led by a former Republican state legislator protested a gay pride event at a public park in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Gunmen disrupted a June 16 festival in Franklin, Tennessee, and they handed out flyers claiming that whites were being replaced. Among others, there were acts in support of the right to bear arms in Delaware and the right to abortion in Georgia.

Whether at the local library, in a park or on Main Street, most of these incidents occur where Republicans have fought to expand the ability to carry guns in public, a move bolstered by a recent Supreme Court ruling on the right to carry firearms outside the home.

Assault rifles at a local gun dealer in Auburn, Maine. Photo: AP

The relaxation of the limits has taken place as the violent political rhetoric and police in some places fear bloodshed among an armed population in the blink of an eye.

political arguments

But the effects of more guns in public spaces have not been felt uniformly. A partisan divide, with Democrats largely avoiding firearms and Republicans embracing them, has distorted civic discourse.

The deployment of the Second Amendment in the service of the First has become a way of bolstering a political argument, a kind of silent if intimidating megaphone.

“It’s disappointing that we’ve reached that state in our country,” said Kevin Thompson, executive director of the Museum of Science and History in Memphis, Tennessee, where armed protesters caused the cancellation of an LGBTQ event in September. “What I saw was a group of people who didn’t want to engage in any kind of dialogue and just wanted to impose their belief.”

An analysis of New York Times of more than 700 armed demonstrations found that, in approximately 77 percent of them, people who openly carried weapons represented right-wing views, such as opposition to LGBTQ abortion rights and access, hostility to racial justice protests, and support for former President Donald J. Trump’s lie about winning the 2020 election.

The records, from January 2020 through last week, were compiled by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a nonprofit organization that tracks political violence around the world. The New York Times it also interviewed witnesses to other smaller-scale incidents not captured by the data, including encounters with armed individuals at indoor public gatherings.

The Proud Boys, the right-wing militia supporting Donald Trump, during the takeover of the Capitol, on January 6, 2021. Photo: AFP

The Proud Boys, the right-wing militia supporting Donald Trump, during the takeover of the Capitol, on January 6, 2021. Photo: AFP

Anti-government militias and right-wing culture warriors like the Proud Boys attended most of the protests, the data showed. Violence broke out at more than 100 events and often involved fistfights with opposition groups, including left-wing activists like Antifa.

Republican politicians are generally more tolerant of openly armed supporters than Democrats, who are more likely to be on the opposite side of people with guns, the records suggest. In July, for example, gunmen confronted Beto O’Rourke, then a Democratic candidate for governor of Texas, at a campaign trailer in Whitesboro and warned him that he was “not welcome” in that city.

Republicans and guns

Republican officials or candidates appeared at 32 protests where they were on the same side as those with guns. Democratic politicians were identified in only two protests as having the same opinion as the armed ones.

Sometimes Republican officials carried guns: Robert Sutherland, a Washington state representative, she was wearing a gun on her hip while protesting covid-19 restrictions at Olympia in 2020.

The occasional appearance of armed civilians at demonstrations or government functions is not new. In the 1960s, the Black Panthers displayed weapons in public when protesting against police brutality. The sometimes armed militia groups banded together against federal agents involved in violent confrontations in Ruby Ridge and Waco in the 1990s.

But the frequency of these incidents skyrocketed in 2020, with conservatives rejecting public health measures to combat the coronavirus and responding to the sometimes violent demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd. Today, in some parts of the country with permissive gun laws, it is not unusual to see people with military-style pistols or rifles at all kinds of protests.

For example, at least 14 such incidents have occurred in and around Dallas and Phoenix since May, including outside an FBI building, to condemn the search of Trump’s home, and elsewhere in support of the right to abortion. In New York and Washington, where gun laws are strict, there were none, despite numerous demonstrations taking place during that same period.

Many conservatives and gun rights advocates see virtually no limits. When Democrats in Colorado and Washington state passed laws this year banning firearms at polling places and government meetings, Republicans voted against it. In fact, those bills were the exception.


Attempts by Democrats to impose limits in other states have mostly failed, and some form of open carry without a permit is now legal in 38 states, a number likely to expand as legislation progresses in several more.

In Michigan, where a Tea Party group recently announced training for poll watchers using a photo of camouflaged gunmen, judges rejected attempts to ban guns at polling places.

President Joe Biden tried to put limits on the carrying of weapons.  Photo: AP

President Joe Biden tried to put limits on the carrying of weapons. Photo: AP

Proponents of the right to bear arms claim that banning weapons at protests would violate the right to carry firearms for self-defense. Jordan Stein, a spokesman for Gun Owners of America, pointed to Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager acquitted last year in the shooting of three people during a chaotic demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he had walked the streets with a military-style rifle.

“At a time when protests often turn into riots, honest people need a means to protect themselves,” he said.

Beyond self-defense, Stein said that free speech and the right to own a gun are “fundamental principles” and that “Americans should be able to bear arms while exercising their First Amendment rights, whether it’s going to church or to a peaceful assembly”.

Others argue that openly carrying firearms at public gatherings, particularly when there is no obvious self-defense reason, can have a corrosive effect, leading to restricted activities, suppressed opinions, or public servants resigning in fear and frustration.

Source: The New York Times


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