Open carry debate moves to front page
by Joseph P. Tartaro
The open carry debate which has been a continuing topic of discussion within the firearms civil rights community for years has suddenly become front page news because of two incidents of open carry at events involving President Barack Obama.
The first involved one man armed with a handgun carrying openly and legally in New Hampshire near a venue where some people where protesting the President’s attempt to drum up support on his approach to the thorny health care reform. It was followed just a few days later at another protest gathering in Phoenix, AZ, where at least one “crisply dressed” African-American man openly and legally carried what appeared to be a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle as well as an openly holstered sidearm, and where about a dozen other men also were openly and legally armed. In neither case, were those openly armed in direct proximity to the President stumping for his health care proposal.
Neither the White House nor the general public seemed to be overly concerned about these expressions in support of open carry, but the national, local and even international media went ballistic as video footage of the Phoenix incident especially was played over and over again in prime time news segments. This was followed immediately by television and radio talk shows and print columnists debating the topic of legalized open carry and the propriety of open carry at high profile, high security events where a national leader was mingling with the public.
Most law enforcement and security personnel expressed little concern since there was no threat to the President in either case, the laws of New Hampshire and Arizona were not violated, and those who carried openly threatened and endangered no one.
A White House spokesman downplayed the incidents, noting that the laws of the states regarding gun carry do not change because the President visits that state.
As was to be expected, national and local anti-gun organizations expressed their total opposition to anyone having a firearm in public, where they claimed the presence of guns stifled public debate.
Many in the media attempted to marginalize the armed protesters as dangerous “right wing extremists,” claims that may impact future public policy (see related story about upcoming G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh).
Pro-gun commentators that voiced public opinions supported the right to open and concealed carry, but some questioned the propriety of openly carrying at such high profile public events where some in the public might become alarmed.
Patrik Jonsson of The Christian Science Monitor posed some interesting questions in commenting on the open-carry incidents.
Did rifle-toting Obama protester help or hurt gun rights? While new laws are allowing more Americans to carry guns in public, are gun-carrying protesters going too far?
Jonsson’s lead paragraph cast the debate in a broader context when he noted, “The appearance of weapons near the president at a speech and a healthcare town hall has been cast as either a danger to the president and public debate or a sign of that gun ownership is gradually losing its stigma.”
Jonsson reported that “many gun-rights experts see another trend at work: the ‘re-normalization’ of gun ownership in the United States.”
The recent furor over the presence of guns near the president is part of an effort to undermine these gains, says Brandon Denning, a law professor at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, AL. It “is an attempt to somehow reverse the normalization of guns,” he said, according to The Monitor.
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