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Editorial: The Dangers of Guns at Protests Are Too Big to Ignore: Armed demonstrations threaten public safety — and freedom of speech.

December 6, 2021

A recent editorial in Bloomberg News highlighted the need to address armed demonstrations and the dangers of the gun lobby’s “guns everywhere” agenda. For years the gun lobby has touted the idea that all that is needed to stop gun violence is more guns, but research shows that a visible gun has been found to make people more aggressive. Exacerbating this problem is the open carry of guns: states with permissive open carry laws were more likely to experience armed demonstrations. State and local leaders should prohibit the open carry of firearms at demonstrations and capitol grounds. 

Following a concerning number of armed protests throughout 2020, ongoing monitoring by Everytown for Gun Safety and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project has found that since January 2020, there have been over 600 armed demonstrations across the country — many of which didn’t attract significant media attention. The report also noted that the presence of armed groups and individuals are nearly six times as likely to turn violent or destructive compared to unarmed demonstrations.

From the piece [emphasis added]: 

“Armed demonstrators have become a disturbingly familiar sight at American protests in recent years. A study by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project and the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund documented 560 armed protests over an 18-month period in 2020 and 2021. It found that armed protests are nearly six times as likely to turn violent or destructive as unarmed ones…These incidents are taking a significant human toll. When armed militias descended on Louisville, Kentucky, during a protest over the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, three people were injured after an accidental firearm discharge. In Portland last year, a pro-Trump demonstrator was shot and killed after a day of clashes between protesting groups. All told, about one in every 62 protests involving firearms results in a fatality


Absent government intervention, this trend suggests that more incidents like Kenosha are all but inevitable. Authorities need to recognize that protests are an inherently charged situation, and that armed citizens are a threat to the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly they’re meant to express. State and local governments have many options for restricting firearms at demonstrations that are perfectly compatible with the Second Amendment, including enforcing existing laws against intimidation and menacing, prohibiting armed militias from attending such events, and banning open carry at sensitive places.

The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse was not the first instance of a violent armed demonstration. In fact, the shooting only further demonstrates the dangers of allowing firearms everywhere, especially at demonstrations. Everytown and ACLED’s research found that while armed demonstrations accounted for less than 2% of the total number of demonstrations in the United States, they comprised nearly 10% of all violent or destructive demonstrations. 

States such as Texas and Utah, made their states less safe after passing dangerous open carry and permitless laws last session. These laws are a threat to public safety and have other consequences for the community. This session, states have the opportunity to save lives by taking open carry and permitless laws off the books. States should follow the lead of Oregon, Washington, and Virginia and regulate firearms in public spaces like the Capitol and during protests. 

If you are interested in learning more about armed demonstrations or speak to an expert, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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