Opponents of gun rights are now using the horror and stupidity of the Charlottesville protests to declare open carry of firearms a “loophole,” which of course must be closed posthaste. Demonstrators in Charlottesville assaulted each other with rocks, bottles, sticks, clubs, chemical agents, and hands and feet in the area around the “Unite the Right” rally, but no one fired a gun . . .
After the rally had been broken up, a demonstrator drove a car through a crowd, killing one woman, and injuring many others, but still, no gun was used. These facts are irrelevant to those opposed to individual rights though, as they point to Charlottesville and demand an end to open carry during political rallies – which they say “chills” other people’s free speech rights – and a ban on concealed carry during such events, because . . . guns.
We’ve seen this sort of fear-mongering for political gain play out in the past.
California enacted laws against open carry after the Black Panther Party staged an armed march on the state capitol. Again, no one was shot or threatened, but the group’s decision to legally display their arms served as the justification for passage of carry prohibitions in California and elsewhere, and contributed to passage of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968.
It’s worth noting that among the most outspoken proponents of these restrictions on rights are the very people who bear the most responsibility for the events in Charlottesville going so terribly wrong: Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer.
The First Amendment can be a very uncomfortable thing. The core of the right to free speech – especially political speech – boils down to the statement that used to appear at the top of many newspaper editorial pages: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” The concept is simple at the theoretical level, but gets complicated in the real world. People opposed to certain speech, whether it be burning a U.S. flag, or spouting racist views, like to point out that the First Amendment only applies to government, and does not require individuals to tolerate “hateful” speech.
That’s true, but the government has an obligation to not only “allow” free speech, but to protect it as well. No one has the right to use force to squelch free speech, particularly in a public space. And the government has a sacred obligation to guard that right, regardless of how repugnant or hurtful that speech may be.
In the case of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, the government not only failed in their obligation to protect the free speech rights of the rally organizers and attendees, it looks like they intentionally conspired to allow those rights to be assaulted and suppressed.
Several months ago, organizers of the rally applied for, and received all of the necessary permits to legally hold their rally. Later, government officials tried to cancel those permits, but their efforts were blocked by a federal judge. The local and state government knew that the views of many involved in the rally were extremely unpopular, and would undoubtedly draw counter-protesters. They also knew that protests against groups much less controversial than this one, had been met with significant violence in recent months. The obligation of the mayor and governor was to protect the rights of the rally attendees, and to keep the peace.
Not only did they fail in their obligation to protect speech in the public square, they set the stage to guarantee failure, and to invite violence.
The number one rule in situations like this is to keep the factions separated, but authorities allowed counter-protesters to congregate right up to the minimal barrier surrounding the park where the rally was to be held. Rally attendees were forced to run a gauntlet of protesters in order to get into the park, and police did little to protect them from protesters, or protesters from them, as they made their way to the rally. As violence began to break out before the rally, police retreated, ostensibly to don riot gear (which they curiously weren’t already wearing) leaving the warring factions to do battle.
Then, apparently on orders from the governor, the legally permitted rally, which hadn’t officially started yet, was declared an “unlawful assembly” and the police in their riot gear marched out, not to push back the protesters who were assaulting the legally permitted rally, but to push the rally attendees out of the park, into the streets full of protesters.
Who could have guessed that this wouldn’t end well?
The rally attendees were not openly carrying guns, but there were two factions of “militia” openly carrying firearms. One group was a combined “patriot militia” of about 35 people (which interestingly included at least one African American and at least one openly gay person).
This group disavowed the views of both sides, saying they were only there to protect people and defend free speech. The other “militia” group was a contingent of about 20 people from a communist organization called Redneck Revolt, closely associated with the liberal John Brown Gun Clubs. They were openly associated with the counter-protesters, and provided security at their staging area in another nearby park.
Both “militia” groups conducted themselves professionally, and even though they were assaulted repeatedly, the “patriot militia” was credited with preventing much violence and rendering assistance to injured people from both sides. No one was shot or even threatened.
When a Black Lives Matter supporter assassinated 5 police officers in Dallas, the media and politicians insisted that his actions shouldn’t reflect on the group as a whole, regardless of their inflammatory rhetoric, which often calls for the killing of police officers.
When an accused white supremacist ran a car into a crowd in Charlottesville, the media and politicians blame everyone to the right of center, and call for sweeping new gun control.
Why would anyone think there is a double-standard in this country?
About Jeff Knox:
Jeff Knox is a second-generation political activist and director of The Firearms Coalition. His father Neal Knox led many of the early gun rights battles for your right to keep and bear arms. Read Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War.
The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition has offices in Buckeye, Arizona and Manassas, VA. Visit: www.FirearmsCoalition.