Prohibiting Guns at Public Demonstrations: Debunking First and Second Amendment Myths After Charlottesville

April 5, 2018

In August 2017, white supremacist demonstrators, accompanied by private militia groups, descended on the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a controversial Confederate statue and to unite various white nationalist groups. Many protesters and militia members were heavily armed. The demonstration quickly descended into chaos, injuries, and even death. In the aftermath of the tragic and disturbing events in Charlottesville, Eric Tirschwell, Everytown’s Litigation Director, and Alla Lefkowitz, Deputy Director of Affirmative Litigation, undertook an in-depth study of laws and policies that could prevent similar events from happening in the future. Their analysis turned into an article that was recently published by UCLA Law Review Discourse.

The article surveys laws that limit the open display of guns in public, restrict carrying firearms at demonstrations, prohibit armed parades and criminalize armed intimidation. It also analyzes how these laws fit within relevant First and Second Amendment jurisprudence. Ultimately, the article concludes that state and local officials have significant latitude, under the First and Second Amendments, to enact and enforce laws that restrict the intimidating display of firearms at public demonstrations. Instead of inhibiting constitutional rights, these laws protect people’s rights to speak freely and to peaceably assemble.