By Doug Livingston
Beacon Journal staff writer
Updates March 28: As of Monday afternoon, 45,179 had endorsed a Change.org petition to allow guns at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, climbing more than 500 hourly and up from 5,000 Friday morning. Commenters appear to be heavily anti-Republican.
As of 8 p.m. petitioners numbered 48,044.
The Washington Post is reporting that the Secret Service has said “no” to guns at the RNC.
The sponsor of the petition has changed from “Americans for Responsible Open Carry” to “Hyperationalist,” an unknown person who has a blog created on March 24 and a Twitter account created in 2011. The Twitter account carries a photo of Abraham Lincoln and has 413 followers.
Published Friday March 24: Support has more than quadrupled overnight for a petition to allow firearms at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
The petition, filed by “Americans for Responsible Open Carry,” was filed Monday on Change.org, an online forum. By Wednesday, 630 supporters had signed the request to carry firearms in and around Quicken Loans Arena, which will host the 2016 Republican National Convention from July 18-21.
With a goal of 5,000 signatures, the petition topped 5,300 by 6 p.m. Thursday.
The Ohio Republican Party, which is sending one of 50 state delegations to Cleveland this summer to nominate the party’s next presidential candidate, said it was not aware of the petition.
Nor was the host committee overseeing the convention, although it noted that the Secret Service, in conjunction with Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, state and federal authorities, is handling security for the event.
“They are coordinating and will be continuously refining security plans leading up to the national convention,” said Alee Lockman, a spokesperson for the Republican National Convention.
The Secret Service banned guns at the GOP convention in Florida four years ago.
The petition calls for:
• Quicken Loans Arena to suspend its open-carry ban during the convention. (The arena actually cites Ohio law on concealed carry in prohibiting firearms.)
• The National Rifle Association to make “an immediate condemnation of the egregious affront to the Second Amendment,” referring to Ohio law that allows for guns in many but not all public places. (The NRA declined to comment for this story.)
• Ohio Gov. John Kasich to exercise his executive authority to override the “gun-free zone” loophole in state law.
• Chairman Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee to explain how “a venue so unfriendly to Second Amendment rights was chosen for the Republican Convention” and create a backup plan to move the convention (two years in the making) to another city should demands not be met.
• The three remaining Republican candidates for president to continue their pledge to protect the Second Amendment by pressuring the RNC and Quicken Loans Arena.
For or against?
“Americans for Responsible Open Carry,” the name of the group supposedly behind the effort, appears nowhere else online. The group accepts online messages only from networked supporters.
And it’s unclear if the petition or its supporters care to unravel or uphold gun rights.
As signee Bryan Finch of San Luis Obispo, Calif., said in the petition’s comment section: “I’m signing this because they hate our freedom, also I’m kinda hoping there’ll be a bloodbath at the RNC.”
The petition has drawn considerable criticism on Change.org, an online forum hosting crowd-sourced petitions.
“These guys should work with my other favorite charity — Americans for Responsible Drunk Driving. They’re also doing great work in the field of horrible ideas,” read the most-liked comment, posted anonymously.
The petitioners, who claim a “God-given” right to carry, suggest that armed, law-abiding citizens will make the event more secure in a city full of crime.
“Cleveland, Ohio is consistently ranked as one of the top ten most dangerous cities in America,” the petition stated, referencing a Forbes story. “By forcing attendees to leave their firearms at home, the RNC and Quicken Loans Arena are putting tens of thousands of people at risk both inside and outside of the convention site.”
Criticism of the effort is split between those fundamentally opposing open carry and a more nuanced attack on the Republican Party for not standing behind its traditional support for an uninhibited right to have and hold firearms.
“Hypocrisy is the death of political parties. Stand by your frothy principles, or shut up about them,” wrote a commentator from California, whose argument that Republicans tend to support unabridged gun rights but do not always hold events at open-carry friendly venues has been made before by progressive organizations.
The debate over gun violence and Second Amendment rights is no stranger to RNC host city Cleveland.
The 2014 police shooting of Tamir Rice, 12, forced gun advocates and residents to reconsider police-community relationships, especially after a consent decree from the U.S. Department of Justice highlighted issues with city police and use of deadly force.
The controversy bubbled up in December as a white man exercised his right to openly display an assault rifle while walking the streets of Akron.
Ohio, an open-carry state, does not prohibit law-abiding citizens who are eligible to own guns from walking in public with a loaded weapon, although firearms are not permitted at the Statehouse in Columbus and, even if concealed, can be banned by individual businesses and property owners.
Quicken Loans Arena, for example, forbids guns or “weapons of any kind” at its heavily attended events.
Venue policy states: “In accordance with the Ohio’s ‘concealed carry’ law and the right for private entities to ban handguns on their premises, firearms and other weapons of any kind are strictly forbidden on the premises of Quicken Loans Arena.”
Guns also were banned at the 2012 Republican convention in Florida. The Tampa Tribune reported then that the Secret Service and Tampa trumped state laws that “block the city from acting to limit guns.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug.