A new article published in The Atlantic last month offers a glimpse into one of the anti-gun arguments likely to be pushed by gun controllers in coming years.
Titled “The Second Amendment Has Become a Threat to the First,” authors Diana Palmer and Timothy Zick argue that gun rights threaten the right to peacefully protest.
“What most people do not realize is that the Second Amendment has become, in recent years, a threat to the First Amendment. People cannot freely exercise their speech rights when they fear for their lives,” they write.
As evidence, the authors cite a new study funded by Everytown for Gun Safety that purports to prove that openly carried firearms scare people away from protests.
Armed demonstrations, the study asserts, are nearly six times as likely to turn “violent or destructive” compared to unarmed demonstrations.
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“Even when no shots are fired, the presence of armed demonstrators is in and of itself a show of violent intimidation,” Everytown writes on its website. Among their list of highlighted examples of “armed protests” is the incident in which Mark and Patricia McCloskey pointed firearms at a group of protestors who broke into their neighborhood.
These allegedly violent armed protests, Palmer and Zick write, dissuade people from attending First-Amendment-protected events they would otherwise attend.
“Whatever the motives of firearms carriers might be, the clear social perception of would-be participants is that armed protests are unsafe,” they write.
The authors also suggest that even permissive concealed carry laws might have the same chilling effect.
“Further study is needed to evaluate the public safety concerns that may still be present when protesters or counterprotesters bring concealed firearms to demonstrations,” they say. “It’s possible that without weapons visible, protesters will not be deterred. But at the same time, merely knowing that people might be armed could keep people away from public protests.”
The authors conclude by worrying that Second Amendment rights could lead to the end of peaceful protest as we know it.
“Even if public protest survives, only those willing to risk their life, or who are inclined and able to carry weapons in defense of their own right to protest, may want to participate,” they say. “Rather than serving as a democratizing means of expression, protest may become an armed contest and the exclusive preserve of the non-peaceable.”
But Everytown’s data is far from reliable, as even a cursory analysis proves.
Researchers did not publish their full data set, which is a major red flag. They also admit to including both violent and “destructive” protests in their list, but do not differentiate between the two.
They also include protests that became violent without firearms being discharged. This protest from Tyler, Texas, leads their short list of published examples, but despite armed protestors “swarming” the town square, no one fired a single “military-style” rifle during the conflict.
Everytown claims that this incident “exemplifies how the presence of firearms at demonstrations can endanger demonstrators, bystanders, and police” but does not explain the causal connection.
Of course, the anti-gun lobby has never relied on consistent, reliable data to make their arguments. Emotion and hyperbole carry the day, and that appears to be the case with this new line of attack.