CLEVELAND, OHIO — Hours after the head of Cleveland’s police union pleaded with the governor to suspend Ohio’s open-carry laws during the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump’s spokesperson told ThinkProgress she is “not nervous at all” that people are walking around the city with assault weapons.
“I am recommending that people follow the law,” Katrina Pierson said Sunday when asked whether she believes people should arm themselves in the convention zone. Under Ohio law, residents over 21 years old who legally own a firearm can openly carry it in public.
In light of the shooting and death of three police officers in Baton Rouge on Sunday, the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association asked for an emergency suspension of the state’s open-carry law for the duration of the Republican National Convention.
“We are sending a letter to Gov. [John] Kasich requesting assistance from him,” union president Stephen Loomis told CNN. “He could very easily do some kind of executive order or something — I don’t care if it’s constitutional or not at this point.” Kasich denied the union’s request.
The violence in Louisiana on Sunday was only the latest in a series of deadly clashes between police and civilians over the past few weeks. When an angry, heavily-armed civilian began shooting at police during a Dallas Black Lives Matter protest earlier this month, the state’s open-carry law made it difficult for police to track down the assailant. Officers mistook at least one legally armed resident for a suspect, and the proliferation of guns made it more difficult for them to determine who posed a threat.
In the weeks leading up to the RNC, Cleveland officials expressed concern that Ohio’s law, like Texas’, would create a dangerous and hectic environment outside the convention.
But Kasich, who has signed several bills protecting Ohio’s gun laws, argued when denying the union’s request that he did not have the power to “arbitrarily suspend federal and state constitutional rights or state law as suggested.”
Jeff Larson, the CEO of the RNC, agreed with the governor.
“[Open carry] is in the Constitution in Ohio, so the governor can’t relax it for a day or tighten it up for five days,” he told reporters at a press conference Sunday. Waving away the police union’s safety concerns, Larson added, “I feel good about the security plan. I think it’s going to be fine.”
But former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland said during his own press conference on Sunday that if he were still governor, he would do look to do whatever was in his power to prevent people from carrying guns near the convention.
“I wouldn’t choose to break the law, but if it was possible for it to be done, that would make sense,” said Strickland, who is currently running for Senate in Ohio. “We have got to take some strong action to deal with gun violence.”
— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) July 17, 2016
On Sunday, before the RNC had begun, pro-gun demonstrators were already gathering in Cleveland, proudly displaying their firearms. Two Ohio residents — one with an assault rifle and another with a handgun — spoke to reporters in Cleveland’s Public Square, just a few yards away from a group of children playing in a fountain.
“I should be able to conceal this weapon under my clothing so no one sees it, then people…[don’t] feel threatened or upset,” armed Trump supporter Steve Thacker told AFP.
“It’s not dangerous,” he continued. “People that carry firearms are typically people that have no need or want of causing any harm to anybody. They want to protect themselves.”
But the presence of guns in the convention zone is making both police officers and other visitors uneasy. Thomas Answeeney, a 25-year-old who traveled to Cleveland from Buffalo, New York to protest against Trump, told ThinkProgress that he sees hypocrisy in enforcement of the state’s gun laws.
“Open carry is apparently a very two-sided thing, because we can’t open carry,” he told ThinkProgress while marching through the streets of Cleveland on Sunday, shouting over the chanting of Black Lives Matter supporters and other activists.
Over the past few years, Ohio police have fatally shot a black child holding a toy gun and young black man holding a BB gun in the open carry state. ThinkProgress has noted that “when a white person owns a gun and uses it for self defense, he’s labeled a ‘good guy with a gun.’ When a black person does the same, however, he’s considered suspicious.”
“If anyone here at this demonstration against Trump was openly carrying, we’d be on the fucking floor with cuffs, at best,” Answeeney said. “I think it’s disgusting… It’s always a double standard.”