Peaceful assembly can’t happen without the option of gun-free events

Armed protesters take part in a rally on April 30 in Lansing, Mich. The recent confrontation between pro-choice and antiabortion protesters outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Walnut Creek, Calif., quickly escalated into violence when several of the pro-choice protesters were pepper sprayed by armed guards hired by the antiabortion protesters. The presence of counterprotesters openly carrying firearms has become commonplace this past summer. At least 45 states allow open carry in at least some circumstances, and some people aren’t shy about using that right to terrify others. In the shadow of such laws, police often are forced to stand idly by when armed protesters arrive on the scene. The Second Amendment right to bear arms cannot coexist with the First Amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble.” The presence of counterprotesters carrying deadly weapons has had a chilling effect on the rights of others to engage in expressive association. When men wearing body armor and carrying AR-15s chose to attend a campaign event at Kent State University in September 2019, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke was right to call out their action as an effort “to intimidate.” While not every armed counterprotester may intend to stifle free speech, carrying an AR-15 to a rally supporting a ban on AR-15s sends its own message. But firearms are different from other forms of communication. The marketplace of ideas can be distorted when one side of the debate has the ability to kill without warning. As law professor Darrell […]

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