CSGV Report — Guns in Public: A Threat to Safety and Democracy

Report: States Should Prohibit Open Carrying of Firearms to Protect American Democracy

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence calls for laws that disarm extremism by banning open carry and strengthening concealed carry laws

WASHINGTON, October 22, 2020 — Three million Americans carry loaded handguns in public every day. 47 states allow for open carrying of guns in public places, with many states allowing individuals to carry assault rifles at protests, into state capitol buildings, and in front of polling places.

These are among the disturbing facts presented in a new report from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence demonstrating that weak public carry laws are fueling gun violence across the United States. If unchecked, the report’s introduction warns, these laws will continue to act as the catalyst for political violence and insurrectionism, threatening the future of the country.

The report, “Guns in Public: A Threat to Safety and Democracy,” outlines the scope of public carry laws in America. The report provides guidance to U.S. policymakers to protect the country from violence and armed intimidation, emphasizing the importance of passing laws that disarm extremism by banning open carry and strengthening concealed carry laws.

As the United States approaches Election Day, and with early voting underway in several states, the report urges Americans to vote for officials up and down the ballot who support strong gun violence prevention laws and will work to ensure such laws are enacted.

In a letter opening the report, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Executive Director Josh Horwitz writes, “We face a president who, taking cues from the gun lobby, incites insurrectionist violence, and undermines our democratic institutions by creating a political climate of fear and hatred. … The gun lobby has continued to propagate the idea that guns should be used to achieve a political end and that the display and use of private guns is an acceptable means of response to individuals with differing views. Today, in many states, Americans can carry guns in public, at protests, in state capitals, and even in front of polling places, leading to armed intimidation across our country.

“Weak public carry laws combined with President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, fueled by the gun lobby, have pushed our nation to a breaking point. Starting with the 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, we have seen, with increasing regularity, the rise of armed right-wing militia groups. … If we indeed value our democracy and our public safety, we must pass laws that disarm extremism by banning public carry and strengthening concealed carry laws across the country. … 2020 offers us an opportunity to vote for gun safety.”

Horwitz is a national expert on insurrectionism and is the author of Guns, Democracy, and the Insurrectionist Idea, which explores how extremist insurrectionist ideology has been promoted and mainstreamed by the National Rifle Association and its allies in the far-right movement and the consequences for U.S. democracy.

The report lays out how over the last four decades, the gun lobby has influenced states to weaken their concealed and open carry laws. As a result, an increasing number of Americans are carrying guns in public. Weak open and concealed carry laws increase gun violence in multiple ways: they 1) allow individuals who have a history of acting violently to carry their firearms in public, 2) promote a “shoot first” culture of violence, 3) encourage armed intimidation by hate groups, and 4) complicate law enforcement’s response to potential threats.

“The increases in political violence and armed intimidation we are witnessing today are linked to the decades-long campaign carried out by the NRA to weaken our nation’s public carry laws,” said Ari Davis, policy analyst at CSGV. “Today, in most U.S. states, individuals can carry loaded firearms with very little oversight. Our nation’s lax public carry laws do not make Americans safer, but in fact do the complete opposite by increasing gun violence. Policymakers should enact laws that protect our country from violence and armed intimidation. They can do this by prohibiting open carry and by strengthening concealed carry laws.”

Additional resources from CSGV:

CSGV recently partnered with Guns Down America to release another report, “Guns Down at the Polls: How State Can and Should Limit Firearms at Polling Places,” on the threat of armed voter intimidation, highlighting the importance of laws that protect and keep voters safe in the voting booth.

CSGV released an Election season video, with the message that we’re not safe in Donald Trump’s America.

Lastly, CSGV is filming and disseminating daily video interviews with candidates for political office across the country. The 2020 Coalition to Stop Gun Violence “Las Vegas to Pittsburgh Virtual GOTV for GVP Tour” features gun violence prevention champions running for office across America. The videos can be found on CSGV’s YouTube page.

Samantha Kupferman, West End Strategy Team
skupferman@westendstrategy.com; 202-215-9260

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About the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
Founded in 1974, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is the nation’s oldest gun violence prevention organization. We believe gun violence should be rare and abnormal. CSGV develops and advocates for evidence-based solutions to reduce gun injury and death in all its forms.

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