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Openly Carried Guns to Be OK Near Republican Convention


FILE - Cleveland police walk with pedestrians as they patrol downtown, March 17, 2016. City officials have been coy about plans for handling convention protests, saying only they are prepared for “challenges.”

FILE - Cleveland police walk with pedestrians as they patrol downtown, March 17, 2016. City officials have been coy about plans for handling convention protests, saying only they are prepared for “challenges.”

Among the items protesters will be banned from carrying at this month's Republican National Convention in Cleveland: explosives, large knives, umbrellas with metal tips, and tennis balls.

Something they will be allowed to carry: guns.

Thanks to Ohio state laws, anyone within the 8-square-kilometer "event zone" in downtown Cleveland will be able to openly carry legally owned firearms. With a valid permit, they can even carry a concealed weapon.

And city officials cannot change that.

"It's the state law, and we have to follow the law, so yeah," Dan Williams, a spokesman for the Cleveland mayor's office, told VOA when asked whether protesters would be able to carry guns in the event zone.

Increased security risk

The situation is raising eyebrows, especially given the heated political climate that has led to an increased risk of mass protests and clashes at the convention.

National party conventions traditionally serve as a rallying point for protesters of all persuasions. As a result, it is not uncommon for there to be varying degrees of civil unrest at such events.

But this year's GOP convention is presenting unique challenges. Extremist political groups on the left and right plan to attend, including some who have recently engaged in fierce clashes with one another. There have also been repeated, small-scale skirmishes between more mainstream supporters and opponents of Donald Trump, who will likely emerge as the Republican nominee at the convention.

The combination of political tension and lax gun laws is making some uneasy.

"When people lose their temper, or if they're afraid, and you add a deadly weapon into that mix, then that's when we really see a problem," said Jennifer Thorne, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence. "So access to a deadly weapon, whether they're allowed to openly carry or they're allowed to have it concealed on their person while it's loaded, then that's a big public safety risk no matter what the circumstances are."

Workers prepare a camera platform inside Quicken Loans Arena in preparation for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, June 28, 2016. No one will be able to carry weapons inside the smaller, secured area surrounding the arena, which will be controlled by the Secret Service.

Workers prepare a camera platform inside Quicken Loans Arena in preparation for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, June 28, 2016. No one will be able to carry weapons inside the smaller, secured area surrounding the arena, which will be controlled by the Secret Service.

Exceptions

Protesters will not be allowed to carry firearms everywhere in Cleveland.

For instance, no open-carry firearms will be allowed within 300 meters of a school safety zone. And no one will be able to carry weapons of any kind inside the much smaller, secured area surrounding Quicken Loans Arena, which will be controlled by the Secret Service.

But that's it, unless Ohio's state legislature passes some type of emergency legislation — a move that seems unlikely, since the General Assembly is in recess until the end of September.

VOA contacted the office of Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican who typically opposes additional restrictions on guns, to see whether anything else could be done. A spokesperson declined to comment, instead referring us to other state or federal officials.

Second Amendment

"We are open carry because there is a Second Amendment, and that's the status you are in unless you prohibit it," Dan Tierney, a spokesman at the Ohio attorney general's office, told VOA. "And the Ohio General Assembly has not prohibited any open carry, except in certain situations."

Tierney refused to say whether this was a situation that warranted additional restrictions, instead referring us to officials with the city of Cleveland.

Many local gun rights advocates aren't bothered by the situation.

"There's no reason [people following the law] should lose the right to defend themselves, especially when there's a chance that an issue could arise with protesters," said Brett Pucillo, president of Ohio Carry, a firearm rights group.

Pucillo told VOA he was not worried about the possibility that guns could escalate violence. "We've had large protests for years and years. We've had open-carry laws. We've had masses of armed people. ... It's never been an issue," he said.

This is not the first time that a national convention has been held in states with open-carry laws. (The Democrats held their convention in 2012 and 2008 in North Carolina and Colorado, both states where citizens are allowed to carry guns openly without a permit.)

But this year, the potential for violence seems real enough for many to reconsider attending.

"I will say personally that I will not want to be anywhere in the area," Pucillo said. "But that's just me."

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