NEW YORK –– In recent weeks, gun extremists have openly carried military-style firearms at protests to incite fear, suppress civil discourse, and threaten public safety. Threats escalated to violence yesterday, when there was a shooting at a New Mexico protest at which a militia named “New Mexico Civil Guard” carried assault rifles and held “All Lives Matter” signs. Other recent incidents include heavily-armed white men showing up at a Black Lives Matter protest to intimidate peaceful protestors; a man firing an assault rifle at a protest in Boise; and armed men storming the Michigan Capitol to protest stay-at-home orders.
Today, Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, Everytown’s grassroots network, released a factsheet explaining the dangerous, unpopular “open carry loophole” that these extremists are exploiting to legally carry military-style weapons.
The factsheet demonstrates that open carry makes us less safe: visible guns “[have] been found to make people more aggressive; therefore open carry makes it more likely that disagreements will turn into violent conflicts.” Additionally, “[t]he open carry of loaded firearms during any demonstration increases the likelihood that such an event will escalate into a dangerous or deadly situation.” This loophole is particularly dangerous now, with citizens in all 50 states protesting after the killing of George Floyd, because 42 states allow the open carry of loaded long guns at demonstrations.
“While hundreds of thousands of Americans are taking to the streets to demand an end to police brutality, extremists are taking advantage of a loophole that allows them to carry military-style weapons at protests to incite fear and threaten public safety,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. If we want to keep our public spaces open for peaceful demonstrations, we need to close the loophole that lets these vigilantes intimidate their fellow citizens.”
“For as long as this country has existed, white extremists have used guns to oppress Black people, deny constitutional rights, and prevent the dismantling of systemic racism – and that’s exactly what’s happening at protests spurred by the police killing of George Floyd,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “Lawmakers must close the open carry loophole that allows these extremists to threaten, intimidate and – ultimately – undermine democracy.”
New analysis included in the factsheet finds that in 41 states, “civilians can open carry loaded, semi-automatic rifles without a permit,” and in 35 states, “civilians may openly carry loaded long guns around state capitols.” It also outlines the violent rhetoric that has accompanied extremists’ exploitation of the open carry loophole, and underlines how the gun rights extremists––including the NRA-–are promoting armed attendance at demonstrations across the country.
President Trump’s response to open carry by white people has been starkly different from his statements about protests primarily led by Black people. In 2017, Trump called Unite the Right rally goers in Charlottesville “very fine people,” and in May, he called predominantly white protestors who stormed the Michigan Capitol Building with long guns “very good people.” On the other hand, he tweeted this about the protests spurred by the death of George Floyd: “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”.