Decision time: speak softly and carry big sticks…or protest loudly with empty hands and get beaten by big sticks?
Lyman is not the first person to suggest that peaceful protesters can deter abusive police tactics by carrying firearms openly. But his “Massive Open Carry” strategy was first proposed not a month before the Ferguson, Missouri protests, so the topic is controversial all over again.
There should be no argument that the police response to initially peaceful protests in Ferguson was despicable and immoral. People who failed to desist in “unlawful assembly” as well as journalists covering the events, were arrested. There were countless incidents of protesters and journalists being attacked with rubber bullets, flashbang and CS grenades and the increasingly popular (with the police, that is) “LRAD.” Journalists were even threatened with death at gunpoint by one particularly insane police officer who seemed to think he was Judge Dredd.
Police assaults against those attempting to exercise their rights as espoused in the 1st Amendment have only grown more common over the years. As Lyman observes, since the crackdown on the Occupy protests, we have typically witnessed demonstrations and protests from the “left” of the political spectrum subjected to assault, whereas mass assemblies from the “right” have proceeded relatively unmolested. Lyman asserts that this is largely due to the fact that the unmolested protesters often carried firearms.
From Lyman’s piece:
“If you compare the Occupy Now and other liberal protests to the Tea Party protests you’ll notice that one group suffers at the hands of the police state while the other does not.
While there are other differences, I believe one of the main differences is that the tea party protesters bring guns to their protests and that is why they do not suffer as much at the hands of the police state.
I believe that both the left and the right should, always, open carry at protests.”
Can any of us argue the with the reasoning?
During the actual moment crowd dispersal operations begin, authorities are already beyond the point of debating the decision to bust up a gathering of the people. Logically, the next best deterrent against violation of the right to assemble is to get the police to weigh the risks they incur by choosing to use violence.
“Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.” – Thomas Jefferson
Oddly enough, I have seen quite a few people over the years who are very convinced that open carry of firearms during a protest is going to cause all sorts of problems. Every time I have seen this idea put forward, tons of people come out of the woodwork warning the rest of us of the doom that awaits, or at the very least, how it “won’t make any difference.”
What is even more odd is that most of these people preface their statements with a disclaimer, where they make clear that they “believe in the 2nd Amendment,” or they “support people who bear arms,” BUT…when it comes to protests, they don’t see it as a good idea.
Allow me to list what I have found to be the four most oft-repeated objections and nitpicks, followed by refutation:
- Open carry will make police more likely to use force.
- Open carry will increase the risk of agents provocateurs.
- Carrying firearms to a protest makes the protesters look “crazy.”
- Carrying firearms to a protest is maybe a good idea, but it should only be done in a concealed manner. Carrying anything other than a concealed pistol is over the top.
I. “Open carry will make the police more likely to use force,” and/or “It will raise tensions!”
First of all, if people are reluctant to “raise tensions,” then they need to just go home and not protest to begin with. Protesting by its very nature is a provocative act. It raises the tension between the oppressed and the oppressor; between the party with grievances and the party who is supposed to make restitution; between the people, and the regime.
By taking part in a demonstration, especially for something fundamental like the right to free speech or right to privacy, or something contentious like demanding that criminal politicians see their day in court, we are already raising the tension level: that’s the point. If we are okay with protesting, then we should be okay with going about it as safely and securely as possible, and that means being able to defend ourselves.
Now, if we show up to a protest more or less naked, why wouldn’t the police use violent means to drive us away, or corral us into a situation where we can be arrested? If the authorities find a peaceful protest inconvenient, they have effective tools at their disposal to smash it, and agents to employ those tools in the form of the police.
Is a police officer likely to run up to an unarmed protester and pop him in the face with a “less-lethal” rubber slug from his shotgun? Countless times, we have seen that the answer is “Yes.”
But what if the protester is openly carrying a firearm? Is that same police officer going to charge across the street and stick his shotgun in the face of the woman who has the rifle slung over her shoulder? How about if she is not alone, but has dozens or hundreds of others (also armed) flanking her?
It just makes plain sense that if you are not able to defend yourself properly, you are a more enticing target for criminals. People who cherish their “2nd Amendment rights” understand this. We have seen many reports that illustrate over and over that when the people are armed, violent crimes diminish. This is especially obvious in a city where citizens were previously barred by statute from carrying firearms, and then the prohibition is repealed, such as in Washington D.C. or Chicago.
If carrying a firearm makes a street thug think twice about assaulting you, and it clearly does, then why do some of the same “pro Gun Rights” people who proclaim the aforesaid crime rate statistics till they’re hoarse suddenly say that, in the case of being confronted with police, it makes assault more likely?
Violent gang members and other criminals who would kill you in a heartbeat are going to take the fact that you are armed into account and not mess with you. But, police officers who, for the most part, just want to get home to their families that evening and eat supper are going to be encouraged by the display of open carry to get into a shootout? With a crowd of armed people who outnumber the police presence by around 100 to one?
I’m sorry, but I just don’t see the logic behind this objection to massive open carry.
II. “Open carry will increase the risk of agents provocateurs infiltrating the protest and starting a fight.”
Refuting this hinges on the same reasoning as with the first objection.
Basically, if a provocateur is present, he is there for one reason: escalate the situation so that the police can move in and use force.
Since we already know that a strong show of defensive force actually deters offensive/criminal force, then why would the police be more likely, rather than less, to escalate the situation with provocateurs when the protesters are open carrying?
In other words, if the police are less inclined to assault you because they see that you can defend yourself, then it follows they are also going to be less inclined to instigate an event in order to bring about an assault in the first place. Why instigate an escalation that you prefer not to follow-up on?
Often attached to objection II is the idea that violent provocateurs can somehow more easily “infiltrate” a crowd if everyone is armed. The obvious question should be: won’t a provocateur be worried, surrounded by a mob of armed people, that he might get taken out in the midst of his violent act? If the people are unarmed, and the provocateur is the only one carrying a firearm, he can shoot indiscriminately, and he will get away with it. Most likely, the people would scatter.
On the other hand, if everyone is armed, and has the mindset that force is justifiable in defense only, then if the provocateur starts shooting, he is going to have dozens of people drawing on him, forcing him to stop immediately.
I have also heard the idea that a provocateur can “more easily conceal” a firearm if the other, legitimate protesters are carrying. But the fact is, a provocateur can show up armed amongst a group of unarmed protesters just as easily. If he is carrying concealed, who would know anyway? I feel ridiculous even having to explain that, but that’s the fact of it. If the protesters agree beforehand that they are to carry openly, then this makes it easier to identify provocateurs, and more difficult for a provocateur to act (please read about Objection IV for more reasoning on this point).
Again, I just do not see the logic behind this objection at all. Provocateurs are a risk, but they are risk that is present regardless if people are armed or not. Arming ourselves may not eliminate the chance of provocateuring completely, but it is ludicrous to say that it increases the chance of it occurring.
III. “Carrying firearms to a protest makes the protesters look ‘crazy’ and it scares onlookers.”
To rephrase what I said under objection I: if you are worried about looking “crazy” to certain people, then just go home and don’t engage in protest to begin with.
Everyone has an opinion, and there is simply no way you can be all things to all people.
Not to mention, the people who are most likely to consider you “crazy” are probably in the same faction that you are protesting against! So why should their opinion count for anything at all? What is supposed to be the idea here, something like this? :
“We are here to protest your immoral behavior and criminal acts. But please don’t think of us as crazy. We want to show you that we, the people, are not going to take any further infringements on our rights. But we also want you to validate us…so could you kindly tell us if we look crazy to you? If we do, then I guess we’ll just disperse and go home.”
As for scaring bystanders: this is simple matter of ignorance, on the bystanders’ part. If onlookers cannot figure out, after witnessing hundreds of protests violently slapped down in our society, that we need to be able to defend ourselves so as to assert our rights, then these onlookers are hopelessly out of touch with both the reality of the situation and basic common sense. If these onlookers cannot get it through their heads that we have an inalienable right to life, and to preserve that life through arms, and that this right is recognized in the supreme legal document of the land (the Constitution), then they are ignorant of the Law.
In short, they have a cognition problem. And it’s their problem, not ours.
We cannot “fix” their inanity by purposefully making ourselves vulnerable to abusive force. No further amount of police brutality that we suffer is going to make these types of people wake up and realize that we should have the ability to defend ourselves; and if they do wake up, we then have the social “permission” from them to open carry anyway? So why not just open carry now?
It seems that most people who raise the “onlookers will think we are crazy” objection are worried about how public perception will translate into the voting process. The underlying idea is that if voters perceive rifle toting protesters as “crazy” or “dangerous,” then they will run off and vote for more gun control, or vote in favor of a particular piece of legislation that the protesters are trying to oppose, just to spite them.
What must be remembered is that massive open carry is a beautiful opportunity to illustrate to onlookers that peaceful activists who bear arms are not crazy or dangerous at all. What better way to get paranoid or ignorant people to see the truth, than to witness hundreds or thousands of armed protesters demonstrating goodwill, camaraderie, civility and restraint in pursuit of a righteous cause?
And truth be told, it is becoming clear to an ever larger amount of people that being armed is a necessity in the face of brutality. Many people in Ferguson have no doubt shifted their views on defensive carry of firearms after witnessing the criminal behavior of the police, as well as the successful defense of stores and homes by using firearms as a deterrent to would-be looters.
IV. “I’m for bearing arms during a protest. I just don’t think we should open carry.” and/or “Carrying rifles is over-the-top: we should limit ourselves to a handgun, and preferably carry it concealed.”
Obviously, everyone has the right to protect themselves as they deem best. If someone truly thinks it is better to carry concealed instead of openly, then they should do that. If someone is more comfortable carrying a handgun instead of a rifle, likewise. But openly carrying firearms, and shoulder arms as opposed to handguns, has many advantages.
Foremost of course, is the fact that it is obvious that you are armed and capable of defending yourself. When carrying a shoulder arm out in the open, there is no mistaking that you are armed. This increases the deterrence value immeasurably.
Equally significant is the increased safety for everyone involved. A rifle or other long arm slung on your back is incredibly safe: the chance for a negligent discharge is next to impossible from this position. The position is also entirely non threatening. No one can accuse a person with a rifle securely slung across their back that they are in a “ready” or “assault” position, whereas if someone rests their hand on the butt of the pistol on their hip, it can give the appearance that this person is intending to draw the weapon.
A slung rifle conveys that you are totally prepared to defend yourself if necessary, but you aren’t looking for a fight or “posturing”. It demonstrates discipline and an awareness for the safety of those around you, both of which are traits that we should seek to exude as discussed under objection III.
Carrying long arms openly also largely nullifies provocateuring. If the protesters have all agreed to carry their weapons slung, the would-be provocateur is extremely easy to identify: he’s the one with his rifle shouldered, aiming it, for absolutely no reason. What clearer way for a provocateur to reveal himself then to not abide by the disciplined and non-threatening carry guidelines of the protest?
In summing up, the idea that openly carrying firearms is a threat deterrent is definitely one held by the police. The police open carry as a matter of course, every time they go out on patrol.
When they show up to confront protesters, they only carry more and larger weapons, in addition to mounting them on armored vehicles. This is blatantly obvious; yet one could easily get the impression that the significance of this gets lost in the pro vs. con of the “open carry debate” when it comes to everyday people or protesters.
What is even more strange, is that people show up to protests and a significant portion of them engage in throwing bottles, rocks and molotovs after police abuse protesters and break up the assembly. What does this accomplish? People get their heads cracked, arms and legs broken, carted off to jail, etc. The protest devolves into a mash that doesn’t achieve its goal, and provides the authorities with ample ammunition to cast the protesters as violent rabble who were simply looking for a fight.
Instead of allowing police to abuse people, and then fighting back in a totally ineffective way, the most sensical thing would be to deter abuse and conflict from the get go.
Showing up totally defenseless to a place and time where you know in advance that there will be armed police ready to mete out violence on you only sends one message: that you are expecting violence, but don’t care if it is visited upon you. In other words, it sends the message that you are completely servile.
This message trumps whatever other message you hope to convey. If the protest is about preserving 4th and 5th Amendment protections, for example, what is the real imprint left from the typical protest, the kind where everyone goes into the “free speech zone” and allows for their comrades to be beaten, shot and arrested? The imprint is:
“I think the 4th and 5th Amendment enshrine sacred rights, but I don’t think they are sacred enough to warrant being prepared. I don’t think they are sacred enough to justify standing my ground and having my voice heard.
I’m ready to run away because I might be beaten, shot at, gassed, maced or have K-9s let loose on me. I know those things could happen, but I’m not interested in deterring them. I could deter them by arming myself, but I’m more concerned about what other people, people who don’t hold the 4th and 5th sacred, think of me if they see that I have armed myself.
I’m afraid they won’t like me or approve of me. So I won’t deter abuse. I won’t stand my ground. I’ll just yell obscenities and disperse with the rest of the group.”
A protest composed of people who think like this, no matter how massive, accomplishes nothing in the advancement of liberty. It simply confirms for abusive overlords that you will submit: if they come at you with the baton, you may put your arms up to shield yourself from the blows, but you’ll take your beating regardless. Maybe someone will “save face” by chucking a CS grenade back at the police, but that same person is powerless to rescue the poor guy who couldn’t run as fast and is now getting curb stomped by four or five cops.
So long as we continue to “protest” in this way, we are not truly protesting. All we are actually doing is saying to criminals:
“We are upset and have grievances, and we are going to let you know about it by God…but you’re still boss.
We recognize that you, the police, can be armed. But we can’t arm ourselves.
You, the police, have the right to defend yourselves, but we don’t.
You can demand compliance, but we will not demand justice. We will merely plead and beg for justice.”
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