In a presidential campaign season where “gun-free zones” have been a favorite target for Republican candidates, a Change.org petition sought to push conservatives on how dearly they hold their Second Amendment principles. The letter called for the Republican Party to allow the open carry of firearms at its nominating convention this July, which will be held in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. The arena bans all weapons, which the petition argued put “all attendees at risk,” since they couldn’t defend themselves without their own gun.
The petition, launched on March 23, has garnered international media attention, and prompted questions for all three Republican presidential candidates. Donald Trump was asked to respond to the demands on ABC’s “This Week” (he said he’d review the “fine print” and declined to take a position). Ted Cruz and John Kasich also received questions about the petition, though they didn’t comment. As of today, it has received more than 50,000 signatures.
“It’s a joke,” the petition’s creator tells The Trace. It was written to show Republican rhetoric on gun-free zones as lacking conviction. The author is a firm advocate of gun control, and he believes that America’s gun obsession “is a defining character flaw.”
“Jim,” the man behind the call to allow open carry at the Republican National Convention, asked to go by his first name only out of concern for his safety. Reached by phone on Tuesday, the Washington state resident says that while he has received plenty of support for his satirical jab, he’s also been the target of vitriolic attacks from pro-gun advocates. One tweeted at him, “liberals are such fucking get [sic] cry babies,” with an illustration of Trump attached. Notably, the pro-gun commenters have been more offended by his perceived (and admitted) liberal beliefs, rather than the potentially dangerous outcome if the party of Trump and Cruz allowed weapons inside what may be a contested convention. “The petition just says what they believe,” he says.
He wasn’t the first person to take to Change.org to demand that the RNC allow the open carry of firearms. But his particular set of demands took off because it cannily highlighted all three Republican presidential candidates’ anti-gun-free-zone rhetoric. Jim says he wanted the GOP to confront the distance between their words and their actions. “I am genuine in my belief that they should have guns at their convention,” he says. The chaos that would create would force delegates and candidates to understand the consequences of pushing firearms into more aspects of American life, he says.
The common Republican objection to gun-free zones is that they are invitations to mass shooters and terrorists, and violate the principle of the Second Amendment that allows citizens to carry guns at all times, in all places. Trump has savaged such zones, claiming that they make people less safe. Cruz has too, saying, “If you’re a lunatic, ain’t nothing better than having a bunch of targets you know are going to be unarmed.” Ohio’s Governor Kasich allowed private citizens to carry at National Guard facilities in his state.
By repacking Republicans’ own statements, Jim wanted to see how dearly they hold these principles: “Of course, I suspect it’s not their position [that open carry should be allowed at the RNC]. They don’t want guns there.”
Jim says he didn’t expect his petition to go viral. “I was surprised by the huge scale of the reaction,” he says.
The Secret Service responded to the petition on Monday, releasing a statement that said, “only authorized law enforcement personnel working in conjunction with the Secret Service for a particular event may carry a firearm inside of the protected site.” Jim says he wondered if, perversely, this might encourage Trump to embrace the call for open carry at the convention, given his penchant for provocation: “Now that the Secret Service has said it won’t happen, Donald Trump could take up open carry as a cause. There’s no downside for him.”
Ultimately, Jim says he wants to spark a larger dialogue. He says he hopes that if people realize it’s a terrible idea to bring guns into the convention hall, they will pose questions about whether it makes sense to bring firearms to other sensitive places that open carry advocates have targeted. “Is it a good idea to have open carry at a playground? At a soccer game where parents might get into a dispute?”
His mind is already made up.
[Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images]