Although Pennsylvania law permits open carry of firearms elsewhere in the state, protesters at the Philadelphia Democratic convention can’t openly carry rifles and pistols without a permit, as can protesters in Cleveland.
Pennsylvania law enforcement officials preparing for next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia have an advantage over their counterparts at this week’s Republican convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
Protesters outside the Philadelphia convention arena cannot lawfully carry rifles and pistols without a permit, as can protesters in Cleveland. (Federal law prevents carrying firearms within the center.)
Though Ohio and Pennsylvania are both “Open-Carry” states, a Pennsylvania state law prohibits carrying a firearm within Philadelphia city limits without a license to carry firearms, which is issued by city police.
This gives law enforcement personnel one less problem to worry about at the Philadelphia convention.
In Cleveland, on the other hand, an inconsistent patchwork of federal, state and local laws has created a ridiculous list of objects that protesters can’t and can bring to the area surrounding the Republican convention.
How ridiculous is this list of banned objects?
You can’t carry a toy gun, a tennis ball, or a can of tuna fish to the area surrounding the Cleveland convention hall, which is known as the Quicken Loans Arena. (Click here to read the long list of banned items.)
But a protester in Ohio can bring a loaded assault rifle or handgun, and “open-carry” in the 1.7-square-mile security zone surrounding the arena.
What brought about this crazy quilt of laws?
As in Philadelphia, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security declared Cleveland’s convention arena a National Special Security Event. Under federal law, this designation placed the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in charge of security inside both convention halls.
The Secret Service immediately prohibited firearms inside the convention halls.
But in Cleveland, outside the arena, in the larger event zone that includes downtown, state law regulates real guns. And the Ohio state constitution permits the open-carry of rifles and guns.
As one Cleveland city official put it, “That’s purely up to the state. We have no control over that.”
Cleveland city ordinances, on the other hand, prohibit fake, toy and replica guns, and devices that appear similar to real guns.
So, in Cleveland, gun owners can legally carry a real gun loaded with live ammunition in the security zone surrounding the arena, without a gun permit.
But, strangely, in Cleveland, no one will be allowed to carry a fake or toy gun.
In Philadelphia, on the other hand, state statute prohibits the carrying of any firearm without a permit.
The applicable Pennsylvania statute is 18 Pa.C.S. § 6108: Carrying firearms on public streets or public property in Philadelphia, which reads, in part:
“No person shall carry a firearm, rifle or shotgun at any time upon the public streets or upon any public property in a city of the first class unless … such person is licensed to carry a firearm.” (Philadelphia is Pennsylvania’s only first-class city.)
There’s no shortage of vocal and articulate proponents and opponents of this and other gun issues in Pennsylvania.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize that Pennsylvania is an open-carry gun state,” says Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, an anti-gun violence group. “They go to an amusement park or other public places and see guns being carried around. It surprises and unsettles people.”
Goodman sounded pleased that state law prevents protesters from carrying firearms without a permit outside the Philadelphia convention center. The prohibition is certainly reasonable, she said.
“You’re not going to have people walking around with guns that law enforcement officers have to worry about,” she says. “You’re not going to have that issue. The police and the Secret Service are going to have to be on the alert anyway. But the fact they don’t have to worry about open carry protesters I think is probably good.”
Mounting tragedies and shootings have raised awareness of the open-carry issue, she says. People are becoming more aware.
“Terrible events educate people,” Goodman says.
Recent guns violence in places like Dallas and Baton Rouge has drawn more attention to the open-carry issue, she says. So have the differences in the law in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
People feel intimidated, and less protected, in public places where strange and sometimes angry people stand around with loaded guns, she says.
Often, Goodman says, those who openly carry guns in public intend to intimidate others.
“I think in some cases that’s the point,” Goodman says. “They stand across the street from our events carrying guns and people feel uncomfortable.”
Responsible gun laws, she says, “will protect our lives, and protect our law enforcement officers.”
But many gun advocates, she says, reject any and all state or federal laws
“They don’t want any gun regulation at all,” she says.
Robert Preston, administrator of the gun rights advocacy group Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association (PAFOA), tells me by email that, with few exceptions, there should be no restrictions to gun ownership or the carrying of weapons in public places.
Prohibited persons, such as felons or those who’ve committed crimes with guns, should not have access to guns, he writes. But otherwise there should be few restrictions to carrying a gun. He says, “private property rights should prevail, with property owners choosing to allow open, concealed or no firearms.”
Preston says that he believes that Pennsylvania’s demand for a permit to carry a gun in Philadelphia is unconstitutional.
“Open carry is regulated into a privilege (requiring a license) within Philly, but elsewhere it is a right (not requiring any license, while on foot),” he writes.
As such, Preston says, local and state gun restrictions are a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which demands, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
Not so, says Goodman, of CeaseFirePA.
“Justice Scalia wrote that the Second Amendment has limits,” she says. Like other amendments, there are common sense limits. “We have First Amendment Rights, but there are limits.”
Gun rights advocates lately have attacked the mishmash of supposedly confusing and conflicting laws, as we see in Cleveland and, to a lesser extent, Philadelphia.
The Pennsylvania statute requiring a gun permit in Philadelphia, says PAFOA’s Preston, “is blatantly in violation of Amendment XIV Section 1 (of the U.S. Constitution) because state law creates two standards of rights, privileges, and immunities within the state. Those in Philly have less rights than those outside of a City of the First Class.”
All these conflicting laws become confusing, gun advocates say.
The National Rifle Association, for example, is backing Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1330, which would prevent local municipalities from passing their own gun restrictions. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Richard Alloway (R-Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and York Counties).
“State firearms preemption was enacted by the state legislature to avoid the possibility of 2,639 separate firearm laws across the Commonwealth; however, over recent years, numerous local governments have enacted gun control ordinances in violation of the current state firearms preemption law,” the NRA tells its members on its website (with a pitch to donate).
The NRA goes on:
“A myriad of local firearm laws makes compliance very difficult and nearly impossible for responsible gun owners. This creates a situation where gun owners and sportsmen have difficulty even knowing about certain laws, much less understanding them. SB 1330 will correct the problem by preventing localities from imposing ordinances more restrictive than laws passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature.”
That’s nonsense, says Goodman, of CeaseFirePA.
“A responsible gun owner should take the time to know the law before they travel with a gun,” she says.
A spokesperson for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action offered no comment.
“We’re getting tons of questions like that from all over. We’re trying to get to them,” she says.
The NRA, however, hasn’t always supported open carry gun laws. In the 1920s and 30s, the NRA spearheaded gun control legislation.
In 1967, the NRA supported legislation in California that outlawed the open carry of firearms in that state. The anti-open carry legislation was enacted after Black Panthers began showing up with loaded guns in public places like the state capitol building.
“I am sure you are aware that I am very grateful to the National Rifle Association for its help in making my gun control bill, AB 1591, a workable piece of legislation, yet protecting the Constitutional rights of citizens,” wrote California Assemblyman Don Mulford (R-Oakland) in 1967 about his legislation banning open-carry.
Gov. Ronald Reagan at the time said he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” Guns, Reagan said, were a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.”
Besides, Reagan said, he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.”
The NRA’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, in 2014 insisted that “the National Rifle Association supports open carry … unequivocally.”
But that wasn’t always the case.
As we saw in California in the 1960s, when black citizens are the aggrieved parties, and the white establishment is the oppressor, the NRA and Republicans are all for gun control, and limits on open-carry.