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EDITORIAL: ‘Open carry’ and open debate don’t mix

White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" with body armor and combat weapons evacuate comrades who were pepper-sprayed after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering by Virginia State Police August 12, in Charlottesville, Virginia. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Look at the photo accompanying this editorial. Is that a group of people with whom you would want to get into a heated argument?

We’re guessing no. There is something about a semiautomatic rifle that makes for a one-sided debate. Say goodbye to your cherished right to speak your mind.

Is this really what lawmakers and the federal courts had in mind in recent years as they have supported ever more lax “open-carry” and “concealed carry” gun laws?

What we see here is not Americans protecting themselves, as lawmakers likely envisioned, but Americans scaring the bejeebers out of other Americans. We see two constitutional protections — free speech and the right to bear arms — in fundamental conflict, and guns are winning.

EDITORIAL

 

The sight of heavily armed white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, this month was the predictable outcome of the expansive view of gun ownership that the courts and many state legislatures have taken in recent years. Open-carry laws have made it legal for people to carry powerful weapons even at the most contentious public gatherings. Illinois is one of just five states that prohibits people from openly carrying handguns, and it is one of just six states and the District of Columbia to prohibit the open carry of long guns, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Even as authorities grow more lax about firearms of all kinds, gun carriers are growing more assertive, showing up at rallies in military-style clothing and body armor and toting big guns. Charlottesville wasn’t the first time people came to a rally armed to the teeth. In June, hundreds of people, many carrying rifles and wearing body armor, showed up at a park in Houston that includes the city zoo, alarming crowds of families with young children.

On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it no longer would represent white supremacist groups that want to bring loaded guns to their demonstrations. The ACLU believes fervently in free speech, but not in speech dictated only at the barrel of a gun.

When the Founding Fathers drafted the First Amendment, guaranteeing our right to assemble, there was a reason they included the word “peaceably.”

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