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Excerpt: "Peaceful protesters being met with men carrying military-style weapons. Many of those unarmed were probably intimidated. I certainly think I would have been."

A militia group in Charlottesville, Virginia. (photo: Getty Images)
A militia group in Charlottesville, Virginia. (photo: Getty Images)

Charlottesville Shows That States Must Amend Their Open-Carry Laws

By Southern Poverty Law Center

19 August 17

We’ve all seen the pictures from Charlottesville.

eaceful protesters being met with men carrying military-style weapons. Many of those unarmed were probably intimidated. I certainly think I would have been.

What did the scene represent? Were we looking at a clash of grand constitutional values, a clash between the cherished First Amendment right to protest peacefully and the revered Second Amendment right to bear arms? Or were we looking at something much more mundane?

The answer is the latter. Our Founding Fathers didn’t tie us into a constitutional knot. Our state legislatures, bowing to pressure from groups like the NRA, did so not too many years back.

Nothing in the Second Amendment gives anyone the right to carry a gun whenever and wherever one may choose. In the Supreme Court’s seminal opinion in the Heller case, the late Justice Antonin Scalia emphasized that “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” State regulations, for example, prohibiting “the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings,” Justice Scalia explained, were undoubtedly constitutional.

Lower courts have ruled that “sensitive places” include national parks, university football games, post offices, vehicles and aircrafts. If a university football game or a national park can be considered to be sensitive places where guns have no place, surely public assemblies, particularly those that might trigger strong emotions, are as well.

So what stopped Charlottesville from prohibiting demonstrators from carrying weapons this past weekend? A Virginia statute passed in 1997 that precludes Charlottesville from exercising any common sense in such situations. Specifically, Virginia’s law says no city, town, or county in the state can enact any local gun law or administrative policy not authorized by state statute.

In fact, more than 40 states have similar laws. Although the details differ, they generally have one thing in common – they were typically championed by Republican legislators eager to curry favor with the gun lobby.

Some of these laws do not simply tie the hands of local officials, they actually threaten them. Kentucky lawmakers, for example, in 2012 made it a criminal offense for local officials to violate the state’s firearms preemption statute. 

A case out of Virginia shows just how irrational that state’s law is. George Mason University, located in Northern Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C., passed a regulation prohibiting the carry of firearms not simply in university buildings but also at any university event. The Virginia Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to the law, holding that both university buildings and university events like football games were “sensitive places” where people congregate and are vulnerable. The reason why George Mason could have such a reasonable regulation while the city of Charlottesville could not is because George Mason is an instrumentality of the state – not a city, town or county.

States are not powerless to change their gun laws. All it takes is the courage to stand up to the gun lobby and the common sense to know that guns and public protests do not mix. Indeed, the events in Charlottesville last weekend prove that the combination is a recipe for disaster. Mayors and other local officials should demand that state legislatures temper their open-carry laws with a little common sense. your social media marketing partner


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+8 # bread and butter 2017-08-19 18:27
We need to bring back the Open Carry Black Panthers to meet these assholes bullet to bullet. Otherwise, "open carry" is just another excuse to allow assholes with guns to run roughshod over our entire nation, and everything we stand for.

The Brown Shirts certainly did start out EXACTLY like these "open carry" assholes.
+5 # MendoChuck 2017-08-20 11:04
You are right on with that statement.
However if you look at what happen in the late, great state of California after that incident it will completely explain how the Second Amendment was gutted by a bunch of all white legislators who, in a panic, went to extremes. "After all we certainly do not want black folks to carry guns on our streets."
Which as you may recall was completely legal at the time.
Heaven forbid . . . . . SNARK!
-6 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-08-20 06:17
We can now see just what the NRA and its powerful lobby has created. The heavily armed right wingers are really only a tiny minority. There were only a few hundred in Charlottesville , and they came from all over the US. But their weapons make them a lot more dangerous than their numbers.

I do think gun carrying laws should be dramatically revised. It should be illegal to carry a gun -- openly or concealed -- anywhere where it poses a threat to others who are not carrying guns. Let the gun-nuts all carry their guns among themselves and leave the rest of us alone.

But Kyzip is right. This will construed by the NRA as a reason to loosen gun carry laws.

The US is spiraling down into insanity. And it is not just the alt-right. Their opposition -- whatever it is called -- driven by the fake media like the NYT and the Soros funded revolution organizers are equally insane. They are pushing the US toward open violence and that will be the pretext to even greater police control.
0 # MendoChuck 2017-08-20 14:07
How about we say, "People that do not like guns cannot go where folks are carrying guns."
Seems like that would work much better.
0 # skylinefirepest 2017-08-22 21:56
RR, you really haven't bothered to look at the carrying of firearms by law abiding people, have you? More millions of people are carrying open or concealed and violent crime has actually decreased...ima gine that. I don't agree with open carry of long guns since I think that most of those guys are simply trying to stir crap...and succeeding, but open carry of handguns doesn't bother me in the slightest. Just think, would a thug want to open carry where a policeman might see him? Not likely.

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