The masthead of the Washington Post has read “Democracy dies in darkness” ever since President Trump was elected, but perhaps its time that the paper change their motto to read “Democracy dies with the exercise of the Second Amendment” instead. After all, columnist Charles Lane is out with a column that claims open carry laws are endangering democracy, so why not go all-in and swap out the masthead to make it clear that the paper only supports those constitutional rights it doesn’t consider icky.

On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, I take a deep dive into the flawed arguments presented by Lane, which were prompted by recent armed demonstrators at the Michigan state capitol building and in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina.

North Carolina bans such displays in its legislature (and other public buildings). It also forbids carrying weapons at political demonstrations. Otherwise, though, “open carry” is generally the law.

And so one of the men in paramilitary garb who have paraded through downtown Raleigh on three occasions since May 1 armed with various weapons — including a menacing but apparently inoperable rocket-launcher — claimed he was just out getting “some exercise,” and police backed off.
Thus do right-wing extremists exploit America’s lax gun laws for political gain. Of course, the open carrying of rifles or handguns is a recipe for intimidation and potentially deadly confusion, even when not politically motivated. If shots ring out on a street full of armed pedestrians, how are the police supposed to identify the culprit?
Whoo-boy. First off, it’s not just “right wing extremists” who’ve been carrying guns at the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan. I’m also not sure you can really say that these armed protesters have actually gained anything politically as a result of their lawful carrying. Finally, it’s telling that Lane relies on a hypothetical scary situation, instead of acknowledging reality; virtually every one of these armed protests have been non-violent, and there’ve been no arrests made.

Open carry may be benign, even necessary, in limited situations: hunters carrying their weapons home from a day’s shooting, for example.

On the whole, though, no state worthy of the name can permit exceptions to its monopoly on legitimate deployment of armed force like those in Michigan or North Carolina. Surely no sensible interpretation of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms would say a state must tolerate them.

How else should one interpret “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”? Oh, that’s right. Under Lane’s interpretation, the right is actually a privilege, and can be denied to anyone, at any time, as long it makes Lane and other anti-gun advocates feel better. Sorry, but that’s not how our individual liberties work.

Lane notes that the Supreme Court is currently weighing whether or not to hear challenges to the carry laws in New Jersey and Maryland, and hopes that justices could use one of those cases to impose new limits on the bearing of arms.

Certainly the court could undermine bans on open carry of handguns that still do exist in jurisdictions containing 30 percent of the U.S. population — California, Florida, Illinois, New York, South Carolina and the District.

Gun-rights advocates portray themselves as heirs to the Founders, protecting individual freedom from George III-like tyranny.

Yet a parallel, equally strong, U.S. legal tradition recognizes that the Constitution is also a shield against anarchy.

In 1886, the Supreme Court upheld an Illinois law prohibiting a self-styled “Education and Defense Society” from parading with arms in Chicago, despite the German immigrant socialist group’s claims of benign intent.

“To deny the power would be to deny the right of the state . . . to suppress armed mobs bent on riot and rapine,” the court noted.

The ruling in that case, Illinois v. Presser, has never been overturned, and in his 2008 opinion for the court establishing an individual right to firearm possession, Justice Antonin Scalia disavowed any intention to do so.

Ironically, while Lane complains about “right wing extremists” carrying guns, the Education and Defense Society was actually comprised of socialists who had armed themselves in defense against their capitalist overlords who had hired their own private security forces. The Presser decision may have allowed states to ban the parade and drilling of “unauthorized military organizations,” but it didn’t address the issue of protesting while armed at all.

Lane says it’s ironic that “today’s conservatives should be adopting the arguments of past radicals,” while failing to note the irony of his taking the side of an undemocratic Supreme Court decision that limited the Second Amendment rights of socialist immigrants. Instead, the columnist says his takeaway from Presser is “that armed political movements of any ideology can endanger democracy, and that a consistent, rational reading of the Constitution would empower states to rein them in.”

Unfortunately for Lane, there’s no rational reading of the Constitution that would strip the American people of their right to protest while armed. Americans can multitask and exercise more than one right at a time, after all. You don’t lose your Fourth Amendment rights because you’re exercising your Second Amendment right to bear arms, and you don’t lose your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms because you’re exercising your First Amendment right at the same time. There’s a much bigger threat to democracy and our republic than a few armed protesters; Americans who would sacrifice our individual rights in exchange for more government power simply because they disagree with the method and message of protesters.