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When Does Carrying a Loaded Weapon to a Presidential Rally Become a Threat?

We now know that there were two men who openly carried assault rifles — CNN reports they were AR-15s — outside the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Phoenix where President Obama spoke yesterday. According to The Associated Press, about eight more people were carrying other types of guns.

Arizona allows people to openly carry guns, including semiautomatic assault rifles, so no one was arrested. After all, they were just exercising their Second Amendment rights, right? The man captured on camera said he was carrying his assault rifle slung over his shoulder “Because I can do it. In Arizona, I still have some freedoms.”

Meanwhile, a reader at TPM raised a good point:

“Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme was released from prison this week, after 34 years in prison. The gun she pointed at President Ford had no bullet in the firing chamber — unlike Sarah Jane Moore, she never even pulled the trigger or fired. Presumably, these gun nuts showing up for the health care events have their weapons actually loaded.”

So when does carrying a loaded weapon to a president’s speaking event become a threat? Police officers reportedly kept an eye on the two guys with the assault rifles, but what about the other eight who just carried handguns? How many officers have to be tied up watching individuals who come to see the president fully armed? Does the right to bear arms at some point give way to the ability of police and Secret Service to reasonably protect the president?

“If we need to intervene, we will intervene at that time,” said one Arizona detective. Unless, of course, it’s too late.

Yesterday Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, called on the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups to tell their members to leave their weapons at home when attending presidential events:

Bringing loaded firearms to any Presidential event endangers all in attendance. Even though our weak national and state gun laws may allow this dangerous behavior, we should use a little common sense.

Individuals carrying loaded weapons at these events require constant attention from police and Secret Service officers, thus stretching their protective efforts even thinner. The possibility that these weapons might be grabbed or stolen or accidentally mishandled increases the risks of serious injury or death to all in attendance.

The National Rifle Association and other ‘gun rights’ groups need to send a message about ‘gun responsibilities’ to their members and all gun owners. Loaded weapons at political forums endanger all involved, distract law enforcement, and end up stifling debate. Presidential protesters need to leave their firearms at home – no exceptions.

[This post has been updated for clarity.]

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