Two months ago, the Ku Klux Klan, Alt-Right, Neo-Nazis, and private militia descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for the “Unite the Right” rally. Was there something that could have been done to prevent those armed paramilitary groups from toting firearms through the streets?
Open carry is legal in Virginia; there are no laws prohibiting guns at protests, and a state preemption law forbids cities from making their own firearms regulations.
Now, a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the city, local business owners, and neighborhood associations targeting several armed groups present at the rally who have promised to return for future events. The suit accuses rally organizers, leading figures in the white nationalist movement, and private militia groups of violating Virginia law by organizing and acting as a martial unit. The suit claims those groups came to the city strictly to provoke violence and went beyond their constitutional rights to assemble and bear arms by unlawfully acting as a civilian military.
Mary McCord, former head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the city. "It was not a normal protest, what we saw was really militaries invading Charlottesville," she said. "The right to peacefully assemble and express views is protected by the First Amendment. The right to assemble as a military organization, engage in paramilitary behavior, is not protected freedom of expression, and it's really as simple as that."
If successful, the lawsuit could provide a model for other cities to stop similar demonstrations and keep protests free of guns, thus avoiding becoming the next site of racial violence.
As reported in The Trace, Virginia is one of thirty-six states that either explicitly allow concealed and/or open carry at rallies or don’t forbid guns in that setting. They also preempt localities from making their own rules to keep firearms away from demonstrations. Nine more states allow guns at protests, but give cities some leeway to make their own regulations. Only seven states, along with the District of Columbia, bar firearms at rallies.
America’s militias have kept to themselves for decades. Historically they have not been all that political; they have not broadcast their beliefs. That is, until the Trump era. And, the problem extends far deeper than a rally in Charlottesville; it is far deeper than Confederate statues. The incident in Charlottesville is just one example of bigotry and racism. Such rallies and hate crimes have been an attack on African Americans, Muslims and other immigrants, and anyone the white nationalists believe is “replacing” white Americans.
Today we are constantly faced with injustice though many times we stay silent. In the words of Desmond Tutu, human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
This is 2017 in the United States of America. It is time we all must stand up against racial hatred. It is time to stand for all Americans, regardless of race, creed, religion, or even political views.