There are times when I think it makes sense to carry a firearm to a protest. If it’s about the Second Amendment, for example, then it makes perfect sense to carry openly as a way to remind people that these guns exist and that people in their community own them. If it’s not about the Second Amendment but you’re worried about violence, then carrying concealed makes a lot of sense.
Yet at no point should this action really be considered illegal. I mean, the right to demonstrate is protected by the Constitution. So is the right to keep and bear arms. So just how can doing the two at the same time be illegal?
Well, in some places, it is. One of those places is Washington state, and now the push begins to pressure authorities to crack down on them.
It was the evening before the 2020 election, and with the potential of civil unrest looming, some members of the Spokane City Council were worried.
“I have received enough emails from citizens who are truly afraid to be out tomorrow night, on election night, because they don’t feel safe,” Councilwoman Karen Stratton says.
After all, the racial justice protests over the past few months, in Spokane and across the country, haven’t just involved clashes between police and unarmed protesters. There have also been private citizens with guns — patrolling the streets, keeping an eye on demonstrators or claiming to be protecting businesses against looters. Some of them, like those wearing camo and surveilling a June Black Lives Matter demonstration in Spokane, have identified themselves as official members of the Lightfoot Militia. Others represented themselves as from more loosely defined armed groups in the militia movement like the Three Percenters.
Councilwoman Stratton says she doesn’t have an issue with people who own guns, but this was different.
“I do have serious issues with those people who carry guns, who come down to our downtown core and other areas to intimidate and frighten people,” she says.
See, what this really is about is trying to prevent people from going to places of protest and protecting private property.
Keep in mind that these armed citizens, whether you agree with them or not, aren’t demonstrating or anything else. They’re trying to prevent arson and looting, a real problem at many of these “racial justice protests” in recent months.
It doesn’t matter, though. They’re trying to use this to put an end to it:
It isn’t just Washington that has an anti-militia law on the books. Almost every state has a version of it. And there’s plenty of legal precedent justifying it.
In 1879, a German citizen militia leader named Herman Presser was charged with violating an Illinois state law after leading a troop of 400 armed men through the streets of Chicago. His case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which concluded that the state’s law banning private paramilitary organizations didn’t violate the Second Amendment.
Washington, like Idaho and every other state, has similar laws limiting paramilitary activity. Washington’s law has evolved over the years, however. The 1943 version banned citizens from organizing together in an armed military company, but made an exception for clubs who wanted to carry around swords. Still, the law bans most civilian groups from associating “together as a military company” to “organize or parade in public with firearms.”
In fact, Council President Breean Beggs points out, the very same section of Washington’s state Constitution that protects the right of individuals to bear arms in self-defense also bans individuals or corporations from organizing an “armed body of men.”
In other words, they resent the hell out of ordinary citizens volunteering themselves to help prevent the widespread destruction they’ve seen in numerous other cities.
More importantly, though, they want to be able to run roughshod over gun owners now that they believe Biden has the election locked up. If you can’t organize, you can’t prepare as a group. You can’t be ready for whatever may be around the corner.
I’m starting to believe that’s the point.
If you’ve in Washington, watch yourself.
Somehow, though, I wonder if this will only target one side of the debate.