As many as 30 people carried rifles across their backs during a protest last week in Dallas at which 12 police officers were shot.
And while that’s legal under Texas’ open carry laws, the presence of the guns also made policing the situation “difficult at best,” as Dallas Police Chief David Brown later explained.
With 50,ooo attendees and strong protests expected at the Republican National Convention next week in Cleveland, Ohio — also a proud open-carry state — worries over safety have intensified in the wake of the Dallas incident.
“Obviously, everybody is on edge after Dallas,” Cleveland City Council Safety Committee member Brian Kazy told the New York Times.
A 25-year-old Army veteran killed five police officers last Thursday, amid a protest following the shooting of two black men in two different states at the hands of police earlier that week. When the gunfire started, however, confusion erupted, especially for officers trying to identify the source of the attack.
“We don’t know who the good guy is versus the bad guy when everyone starts shooting,” Brown said during a press conference Monday, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Multiple people were detained — police even started a manhunt for one wrongly identified man — though police later confirmed the gunman acted alone.
From an address in Poland, President Barack Obama echoed Brown’s sentiments.
“At the protest in Dallas, one of the challenges for the Dallas Police Department — as they’re being shot at — is because this is an open-carry state, there are a bunch of people participating in the protest who have weapons on them,” Obama said. “Imagine if you’re a police officer and you’re trying to sort out who is shooting at you, and there are a bunch of people who have got guns on them. “
These revelations not only challenge the oft-cited “good guy with a gun” theory — that an armed civilian could stop an attack or assist police. They could affect law-enforcement decisions — and even laws — going forward. To start, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings suggested tightening gun restrictions in public places was “common sense,” as the Dallas News reported.
In light of the incident in Dallas, Cleveland’s police chief said the city would be changing its plan but didn’t go into detail, according to the Times. Concerns over security, however, already loomed in Cleveland. Despite a petition pushing for firearms inside the venue, the Quicken Loans Arena (also known as “The Q”) the Secret Service put the kibosh on the wishes of many gun-rights’ activists in March.
The city of Cleveland has also banned certain items in the “event zone.” Among the items prohibited are: certain knives, slingshots, air rifles, and paintball guns.
But there’s no way around open-carry in an open-carry state. The increased police presence in Cleveland, including local, state, and federal officers, must cope with civilians carrying guns. Most recently, the chairman of the New Black Panther Party told Reuters the group plans to carry firearms for self-defence purposes during demonstrations.
Many security experts, however, are urging people to leave their guns at home during emotionally charged situations, like protests.
“First of all, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone carry a firearm to a protest,” Chuck Drago, a former police chief in Florida with more than 30 years of law-enforcement experience, told Business Insider. “It is a miracle that the people carrying guns at the Dallas protest were not injured. Who could blame a police officer if he or she shot a person running from the shooting with an AR-15?”
Possession of a gun will almost always make officers cautious and nervous, as many experts have noted.
“Do not take the gun out. Do not point it at anyone. Do not make quick moves around a police officer. Cooperate with the police even if you think they are wrong. If he or she wants to take your gun, let them,” Drago said.
Following the high-profile police-killing of 12-year-old Tamir Race and other incidents that shone a spotlight on Cleveland’s policing practices, the department entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice to reform its policies after finding a pattern of aggressive use of force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The Cleveland Police Department did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
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