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Prohibiting Guns at Public Demonstrations: Everytown Report Debunks First and Second Amendment Myths

October 30, 2017

In Response to Recent Armed Protests Throughout the Country, New Analysis Shows State and Local Officials Have Authority to Enact and Enforce Gun Safety Laws to Prevent Intimidating Public Displays of Firearms – Without Infringing on the First or Second Amendments

Everytown Applauds the City of Murfreesboro for Taking Proactive Steps to Protect Public Safety by Prohibiting Guns at Protest This Weekend

NEW YORK – Everytown for Gun Safety, the country’s largest gun violence prevention organization, today released a legal report outlining options for local and state officials who are seeking ways to prevent the armed intimidation of their citizens in the wake of the August alt-right rally in Charlottesville and subsequent public demonstrations. This new, in-depth legal analysis clarifies that state and local officials have broad leeway to pass and enforce sensible gun safety laws that prohibit or restrict the intimidating public display of firearms at demonstrations – without running afoul of the First or Second Amendments.

This week, the city of Murfreesboro announced it will partner with state and federal law enforcement to ensure the safety of its citizens, and their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble, by banning weapons at a scheduled protest on Sunday. This action is supported by Everytown’s legal report, which explains that such restrictions are consistent with both the First and Second Amendments.

The full report is available here.

“Everytown’s in-depth analysis of relevant statutes and court decisions shows that state and local officials have a variety of options to prohibit armed demonstrators from terrorizing the public and to punish those who do – options that are entirely consistent with both the First and Second Amendments,” said Eric Tirschwell, director of litigation for Everytown for Gun Safety.

The report was authored by Tirschwell, a former federal prosecutor, and Alla Lefkowitz, Everytown’s deputy director for affirmative litigation. It details specific actions that state and local officials can take to prevent the intimidating use of firearms. Options include: prohibiting the open carry of firearms in public entirely; prohibiting the carry of firearms at public demonstrations; prohibiting people from parading or marching with firearms; allowing local jurisdictions to regulate open carry; requiring a permit for open carry; and strictly enforcing applicable state laws that prohibit displaying a gun in a threatening or alarming manner.

“The Charlottesville protests saw some demonstrators use the open carry of firearms to intimidate and threaten others,” said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “This new report outlines options for city and state officials to learn what can be done to address this issue and prevent future violence without infringing on the First and Second Amendments.”

“Open carry during public rallies and demonstrations can create an atmosphere of intimidation and fear, which is disruptive and unsettling to many of our residents,” said Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “We must work to create an atmosphere of security and stability at such events within the parameters of our laws and our First and Second Amendment rights. I think this new report provides helpful guidance to local officials.”

“In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville involving armed hate groups, we took a serious look at our options to prevent similar events here in Durham,” said Durham Mayor Bill Bell, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “This report is an important step to help educate state and local officials how to keep protests safe and peaceful.”

Topline findings in the Everytown report include:

  • The current Second Amendment judicial landscape leaves states with a wide variety of options to make sure that the open carrying of guns is not allowed to trump public safety concerns or trample the constitutional rights of others at demonstrations.
  • Case law is clear that in most cases that the open carry of firearms will not be protected as speech under the First Amendment.
  • Every state in the union already prohibits the use of a gun to threaten or intimidate a member of the public.
  • State preemption laws, not the Constitution, stand as unfortunate barriers to local control of volatile and dangerous situations.

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