Is There A Legal Right to Protest with Guns?

Last week in Charlottesville, Virginia, about 500 protestors marched in an event dubbed “Unite the Right.” Some of the marchers carried Nazi flags. Many were openly carrying guns and rifles. In fact, some of the march attendants were members of well-armed militias. According to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, the police were “outgunned” by militia members “who had better equipment than our police had. … You would have thought they were an army.” In the end, the only deadly weapon used during the march was a car driven by suspected neo-Nazi James Fields.

Image Source: time.com

Image Source: time.com

However, militia leaders have stated that they attended to defend free speech, and not to act as security for the Unite the Right organizers. One militia leader criticized the Unite the Right rally, saying it represented the most extreme end of the political spectrum. “These people did not come for free speech, they came to fight.” The militia leaders also criticized the Charlottesville police department and the Virginia state police for failing to act to separate fighting sides.

Image Source: rawstory.com

Image Source: rawstory.com

In Virginia, it is legal for civilians to carry weapons openly, including semi-automatic rifles loaded with high-capacity magazines.

Of course, the First Amendment allowed the Unite the Right organizers to secure the necessary permits for their march. The University of Virginia is also a government-owned public university, which means the First Amendment did apply on its campus where much of the march took place.

Image Source: abcnews.com

Image Source: abcnews.com

When officials tried to revoke Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler’s permit to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, the ACLU represented him in a lawsuit against the city. While the ACLU took heat for representing one of the organizers of the Unite the Right march, it has since announced that it will no longer represent hate groups that seek to march while armed.

States or municipalities could pass laws that prohibit the carrying of guns at publicly sanctioned demonstrations. Although the Supreme Court held in 2008 that the Second Amendment confers a right to bear arms, the court never defined the scope of that right. For example, a court could find that, in the specific setting of political demonstrations, carrying arms is so intimidating that it has the effect of chilling the free expression of those on the other side.

Image Source: lockedback.com

Image Source: lockedback.com

In other words, it’s not just the white supremacists who have the right to free speech—all the demonstrators are supposed to enjoy that same freedom. In many states, they’ll need to convince a court that it’s only by banning weapons that the First Amendment rights of all demonstrators can be honored.

What do you think? Should any protestors carry weapons or does that chill the free speech of potential counter protestors?

5 comments on “Is There A Legal Right to Protest with Guns?

  1. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Jennifer L Al-Roomi on

    No you should not be allowed to carry guns at a protest. It’s intimidating and looks violent. If it’s peaceful demonstration there should be no need to bring a gun.

    Reply
  2. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Wendy on

    Protesters should not have the right to use guns as intimidation factors. I can almost understand a concealed hand gun. Definitely never a semiautomatic. There’s no reason for it other than to intimidate, frighten and bully the opposing view points. You are taking away someone’s freedom of speech, because they are afraid to speak their mind When the opposition someone has a semiautomatic.

    Reply
  3. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Joseph Beban on

    There should be no firearms aloud during a demonstration!!!! When people show up armed that is when the national guard should show up. The fact that armed civilians can show up to a peaceful protest more heavily armed than the police that are meant to keep the peace is a sure sign of a broken system. Hmmm….I wonder if the lobbyist dollars from the NRA have anything to do with that unbalanced equation. Let us cut to the chase….the only thing this type of demonstrating can lead to is a blood bath. Any rational person knows this to be true.

    Reply
  4. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Marilyn Roman on

    Protesters SHALL NOT carry weapons to any political events of any kind. The carrying of weapons is very intimidating to cause someone on the other side to fear their absolute right to express their views.

    Reply
  5. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Sandra Gannon on

    I think guns are dangerous, period. We shall never be able to get rid of them in this crazy country. They could easily be our downfall. Why does every hill billy and red neck need a gun? They don’t have anything anyone wants! Add them to a protest and people die!

    The president is a total lying asshole. I hope he drops dead.

    Reply

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