Why the guns?
Those of us involved in Gun Violence Prevention (GVP) understand that most gun owners are ordinary Americans whose guns were bought out of legitimate concerns for personal protection, or for hunting or other sports shooting. We in GVP might not choose guns as a means toward either protecting ourselves or engaging in sport, but we certainly understand America’s long tradition and legal framework that allows guns to be used for those purposes. We continuously work to protect and improve reasonable limits on access to firearms and we frequently disagree with gun rights advocates on where those limits should be set.
We firmly reject the argument from pro-gun activists that this is a debate over freedom. Too often we hear our efforts for reasonable restrictions on guns characterized as attacks on liberty. Both sides of this argument have legitimate claims on freedom. GVP activists have every right to assert that their freedoms to peacefully live, work, assemble, and speak are threatened when guns are carried by untrained and unqualified carriers in neighborhoods, restaurants, bars, theaters, churches, workplaces and other public places. We have guaranteed rights too and we believe that public health, safety, speech and assembly can all be threatened by guns.
In recent days we are seeing photos and videos of heavily armed persons, often dressed as if for war, who are protesting shelter-in-place orders in our state and other states. And my question is, Why the guns?
For GVP activists there is nothing new about encountering armed counter-protesters at rallies about gun violence. It has been a common occurrence for members of our organization in public spaces to see a handful of gun rights activists carrying assault rifle type weapons congregating across the street as we protest the latest mass shooting or march in support of an important piece of legislation. At best the counter-protesters bring their guns as a visible statement of their right to carry such weapons in public. At worst they seek to intimidate those who disagree with them. Either way, one can understand how bringing their guns to a disagreement about guns makes sense to them.
But why guns at a rally to ease restrictions imposed during a pandemic? No one is threatening that persons who leave their homes will be shot. No governor is proposing to take guns away to fight Coronavirus. No government is acting to reduce gun rights during the pandemic. In fact, in our state and many others gun stores have remained open during the period when most businesses are closed. No, the answer is that these guns have only one purpose: intimidation. The message that these gun carriers are sending is clear; they are deadly serious about getting what they want and they are prepared to kill fellow Americans who disagree. The introduction of guns to this argument encourages fringe elements in America to believe that resorting to gunfire may be necessary and appropriate if they don’t get their way and soon.
We call on all Americans who own firearms to reject this form of intimidation and threat. While there can be legitimate debate about how and when to end stay-at-home orders in America, there is no place in this debate – or any other legitimate debate – for one side to visually suggest that they are prepared to kill those they disagree with. Those who agree that it’s time to reduce the economic shutdown need to condemn these armed protesters. These guns make a clear statement: No matter what we are arguing for or against, we are prepared to kill to get our way.