Cleveland's open-carry gun rights spark convention worries

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has rejected a request from the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association to suspend the state's open-carry gun rights at the Republican convention this week.

John Minchillo/AP
Second Amendment supporter Steve Thacker carries a rifle as he talks to the media during a protest on Sunday in Cleveland. The Republican National Convention starts Monday in Cleveland.

The Republican National Convention commenced Monday morning, kicking off a what is shaping up to be a tense week for law enforcement in Cleveland. 

Adding to the potential for violence, as previously seen between supporters and protesters at Donald Trump rallies, is the state's open-carry law, which allows any of the 50,000 people expected to visit Cleveland this week to carry firearms in the streets surrounding the convention arena. 

On Sunday, the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association asked Gov. John Kasich to temporarily restrict the state's gun laws for the week after the fatal shooting of three police officers by a gunman in Baton Rouge, but the governor said such restrictions were not in his power. The request followed weeks of law enforcement imploring convention attendees to leave their guns at home.

"The last thing in the world we need is anybody walking around here with AR-15s strapped to their back," Stephen Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, told The New York Times last week. "Come, say whatever it is that you want to say, make whatever point it is that you want to make, but it's going to be very, very difficult to deal with the R.N.C. as it is." 

With tensions high and a series of rallies planned, many Trump supporters and protesters alike agreed that guns would likely exacerbate an already potentially dangerous situation. 

"As a police officer I am very much in favor of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, but in a situation like this I don't see what good it does to open carry," Bill Morris, a police officer and Trump supporter from Alliance, Ohio, told Reuters. "You don't go walking around Washington, D.C., with a rifle, and I don't see why you should do it here."

His sentiments were echoed by Tijuana Morris, a retired police officer from Detroit, at a rally held by liberals opposed to Trump.

"I have a right to carry. And I don't have my weapon here today because we don't need any more violence," she said. "There is so much anger there and all you need is one person pulls their gun and makes a mistake." 

Others embraced their legal right to carry firearms. One day before the start of the convention, a lone gun rights activist showed up to Cleveland's Public Square with an AR-15 rifle over his shoulder, an assortment of ammunition magazines in his vest, and a .45 caliber handgun strapped to his thigh. 

"This is a statement. I'm not going to be wandering around like this except in situations like this," said Steve Thacker, a former US Marine, to Reuters.

As the convention goes on as scheduled, Mr. Loomis of the police union told CNN that law enforcement will be "looking very, very hard at anyone who has an open carry."

"It's irresponsible of those folks – especially right now – to be coming downtown with open carry AR's or anything else," he said. "I couldn't care less if it's legal or not. We are constitutional law enforcement, we love the Constitution, support it and defend it, but you can't go into a crowded theater and scream fire. And that's exactly what they're doing by bringing those guns down there."

This report contains material from Reuters. 

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