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Police at US Republican Convention on Alert

A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump poses with a rifle while waiting for a pro-Trump rally to begin near the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18, 2016.

A last minute attempt to suspend Ohio’s open carry gun laws in the wake of the shooting deaths of three policemen in Louisiana has failed, forcing law enforcement authorities to be even more vigilant as demonstrators, some armed with guns, gather in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention.

The Cleveland police patrolmen’s union asked Ohio Governor John Kasich to suspend the laws for the duration of the four-day convention, but Kasich does not have the authority to do so.

“Ohio governors do not have the power to arbitrarily suspend federal and state constitutional rights or state laws as suggested,” Kasich’s spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach said in a statement.

Concern about the issue of open carry at the convention has been heightened after the recent fatal shootings of police officers in the southern cities of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas.

Police also are worried about the possibility of violent protests between supporters and opponents of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said his officers are on a high state of alert.

“Officers are more keen to things that are happening and our officers are told to be especially cautious during their tours of the convention event zone and throughout the rest of the city," Williams said.

Steve Thacker carrying a rifle and a handgun is surrounded by news media in a public square in Cleveland, Ohio, July 17, 2016.
Steve Thacker carrying a rifle and a handgun is surrounded by news media in a public square in Cleveland, Ohio, July 17, 2016.

The right to openly carry handguns and even assault rifles in Ohio and in dozens of other states is the result of a very successful political strategy executed by individual activists and a collection of gun rights groups that want to “normalize” the presence of guns in public.

“This decentralized movement is nonetheless so successful because its issue is guns. In many parts of the country, any law that purports to expand gun rights will be eagerly adopted by lawmakers,” Adam Winkler, UCLA School of Law professor and author of ‘Gunfight: the Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America,’ told VOA.

A Pennsylvania man who attended a Trump rally Monday near the convention site with a handgun strapped to his belt said he and others carrying guns are not trying to intimidate anyone. He said it is more about exercising their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Despite arguments to the contrary, the movement to openly carry firearms is not driven by self-defense, said Winkler.

“These open carry activists would already have the ability to carry a concealed firearm in public, which is the normal way people use guns to defend themselves in public. They want to make a political statement that guns are here. They’re normal. They’re safe.”

The open carrying of firearms can trace its history to the 19th century, when states tried to prohibit the public carrying of firearms. The courts, Winker said, often ruled to prohibit concealed weapons but not open carry. As a result, many state laws allowed open carry for decades but no one leveraged them until activists began doing so in recent years.

“Now what we’re seeing is a real effort by gun rights activists to take advantage of those laws and to push for new ones,” Winkler said.

The movement has been successful, as more than 40 of the 50 U.S. states generally allow the open carrying of firearms, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In many of those open carry states, a permit or license is required to carry firearms in public view.

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