Some of the sickest images to come out of our recent turmoil have featured Americans waving guns at other Americans – not in self-defense but to provoke fear. The worst showed armed thugs threatening Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on the state capitol steps over her anti-COVID regulations. (This was separate from an alleged plot by a different set of creeps to kidnap her.)
There were other low points. Phoenix saw a group of armed exhibitionists modeling their weapons at a demonstration for vote counting, and no one was arguing with them. Arizona is a state where just about anyone over 21 can carry a gun on the streets, permit not required.
Some men (and some women) now accessorize their outfits with weaponry. It’s a fashion statement, one supposes, meant to convey power and masculinity.
Americans can’t openly display their guns everywhere – only in a few states. These open-carry states might reconsider laws that let weak and disturbed people show members of the public how easily they could kill them.
Philadelphia, by contrast, does not permit open carry. That enabled its police to stop two armed Virginia men creeping near the convention center where votes were being counted.
It was unclear whether these visitors intended to participate in mayhem tourism or were simply acting out some commando fantasy. But because they were openly carrying firearms, the authorities could charge them with weapons violations. Back at their parked Hummer, police found an AR-style rifle, as well as one of their mothers.
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, voters were allowed to take their guns to the polls unless the polling place was a school, courthouse or other location where state law prohibits firearms. But what does any public display of firepower look like during a tense election? It looks like voter suppression.
Sure enough, an election official in Raleigh, N.C., told CNN that dozens of citizens had called before Election Day to ask whether they’d be safe at the polls.
It’s true that laws in open-carry states generally forbid aggressively exhibiting a weapon with intent to intimidate. But how on earth are police to determine such motives even with some guidelines in place?
In Arizona, a gun in a holster or slung over the back is generally considered nonthreatening. Then, what is it? People who carry firearms into businesses and public spaces are often “looking for a response,” a Scottsdale Police Department spokesman told the Arizona Republic. There are far nobler ways to catch the public’s attention.
You will recall that unforgettable photo of Mark and Patricia McCloskey – he with a semiautomatic rifle, she a semiautomatic handgun – pointing their weapons at certainly peaceful Black Lives Matter marchers. Video showed some participants sending insults back but also saying, “We got kids out here!” and “Nobody wants to hurt you.”
If I feared my home could be invaded by what Mark McCloskey said was an “out-of-control mob,” I’d be inside, crouched under a window. The couple argued that the protesters were trespassing on their private lane, which was true but not an excuse for brandishing firearms. A St. Louis grand jury charged the McCloskeys with unlawful use of a weapon, a felony.
This goes beyond the usual debate over gun control. I believe that sane gun laws would allow ownership of weapons for sport or self-defense, with some exceptions, and assuming the owner is of sound mind and clean criminal record. This isn’t about that.
It’s about changing laws that let people menace bystanders with a deadly weapon. No two ways about it. A firearm conspicuously displayed on the street is a threat – including to law enforcement officers, who are sometimes the targets. Open-carry laws seem, frankly, insane.
Froma Harrop is a nationally syndicated columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.