The New York Times did a deep dive into the data of more than 700 armed demonstrations and found that at more than three quarters, the open carriers represented right-wing views. Violence broke out at more than 100 of them.
It’s getting worse, too. The frequency of armed civilians at demonstrations or governmental functions “exploded in 2020,” The Times found. “Today, in some parts of the country with permissive gun laws, it is not unusual to see people with handguns or military-style rifles at all types of protests.”
Sadly, the tactics are working. Disability rights advocates were afraid to demonstrate in support of mask mandates, according to a public policy professor quoted in the article. The Times also highlights the case of an Idaho library where armed conservatives showed up at public meetings to fight against books that were mostly not in the library or in the children’s section. The library director subsequently resigned.
Even more disturbing, so-called mainstream Republicans are endorsing the tactic. More from The Times:
At a Second Amendment rally in June 2021 outside the statehouse in Harrisburg, Pa., where some people were armed, Republican speakers repeatedly connected the right to carry a gun to other social and cultural issues. Representative Scott Perry voiced a frequent conservative complaint about censorship, saying the First Amendment was “under assault.”
“And you know very well what protects the First,” he said. “Which is what we’re doing here today.”
Stephanie Borowicz, a state legislator, was more blunt, boasting to the crowd that “tyrannical governors” had been forced to ease coronavirus restrictions because “as long as we’re an armed population, the government fears us.”
Pennsylvania, like some other states with permissive open-carry laws, is home to right-wing militias that sometimes appear in public with firearms. They are often welcomed, or at least accepted, by Republican politicians.
Just like with America’s disgraceful epidemic of mass shootings, stricter gun laws would likely relieve some political tensions, too. More than half the armed protests occurred in states with lenient open-carry laws, The Times said. Sam Jones, of the non-partisan Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project told The Times that armed groups “might say they have no intention of intimidating anyone and are only participating in demonstrations to keep the peace,” but the evidence shows otherwise.