ACLU and Everytown Speak Out on Prohibiting Guns at Public Protests

January 19, 2021 12:00 pm

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NEW YORK — Following the armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, this country faces one of the direst moments in our history. The president and elected officials sought to overturn the right of the people to choose their representatives based on repeated lies and worked to reject the results of free and fair elections. Everytown and the ACLU join together to condemn these profoundly undemocratic actions.

And in light of reports of possible violence in Washington and state capitals in the coming days, we join together to affirm the authority of state and federal governments to prohibit weapons, including guns, at public protests. Neither the First nor the Second Amendment stands in the way of such measures, and indeed such rules have long been in place at the U.S. Capitol itself.

Limits on carrying weapons at public protests do not violate the Second Amendment because they are rooted in a long historical tradition of prohibiting guns in sensitive public places and are reasonable regulations designed to further public safety. The Supreme Court has stated that the Constitution does not confer a “right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Just as government can prohibit guns in public buildings, at airports, and at the Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall, so too can it prohibit the carrying of guns and other weapons at public protests.

Nor do such laws violate the First Amendment, as long as they are applied neutrally to all, regardless of viewpoint or ideology. Those who march with arms threaten the free exchange of ideas and increase the risk of violence that will in turn limit the protest itself. And they chill the right to engage in counter-demonstrations. A restriction on marching while armed, if applied neutrally to all, satisfies the First Amendment as a content-neutral and reasonable regulation of the time, place, and manner of speech. It permits people to make their views known, and simply seeks to protect the safety of all.

Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, stated:

“The ACLU has long declined to represent those who insist on carrying guns at their protests. As far back as 1937, the ACLU therefore took the position that it would not represent marchers who insisted on ‘brandishing weapons.’ We reaffirmed that position in the aftermath of the Charlottesville tragedy.”

John Feinblatt, president of Everytown, stated:

“Everytown has long called for the prohibition of open carry firearms because it corrodes our public spaces, infringes on our rights, and introduces terror and intimidation where dialogue and debate should prevail. That is why Everytown last week unveiled a new policy plan designed to eliminate armed intimidation from politics by prohibiting guns at Capitol buildings and grounds, sensitive government facilities, polling locations, vote counting locations, and protests on public property. Everytown emphatically rejects and will continue to fight against the gun lobby’s ‘guns everywhere’ vision of America, and recent events have painfully reminded us of the dangers of violence, mayhem, and intimidation that come with it.”

Together, our organizations represent nearly 8 million Americans of both parties. The ACLU was founded in 1920 and has nearly two million members and supporters. Everytown was founded in 2013 when Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America came together to tackle their shared goal of ending gun violence. Since then, Everytown has combined the best minds in research, policy, litigation, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to grow Everytown for Gun Safety into a movement of nearly 6 million supporters.

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