In a comment to my post on the petition to allow people to openly carry guns into the Republican National Convention in July, reader Heidi Nemeth said that friends of hers had suggested that the petition was the “laughable product of gun regulation advocates tormenting NRA supporters and Republicans.”
It turns out that her friends may be right. CBS News contacted the person who only identifies himself as Jim, who says that it was not a prank but an effort by him to force the Republicans to live according to their own rhetoric or explain why not
Jim says he wrote the petition knowing it was somewhat preposterous — that law enforcement would never allow the Republican presidential candidates inside an arena with potentially thousands of armed individuals. “There were never going to be guns at the convention. Not a million signatures were going to make that happen,” Jim said.
But he also knew that if the Republican candidates sincerely meant what they have been saying about expanding Second Amendment rights, it would logically follow that they should support a move to allow firearms at the convention. “If they can’t live in accordance with the policies they impose upon us, they owe us that rational conversation,” Jim said.
He continued, “I thought, ‘How do we square how unsafe they’re going to be with what they say makes them safe?”‘ The petition was born.
“I take them at their word,” Jim said. “[Open carry is] a state law in Ohio. I don’t want them to have a terrible event happen [at the convention] and then say if it hadn’t been a gun-free zone, fewer people would have died.”
Max Burns, a spokesman for Change.org, said support for the petition shot up dramatically over the weekend and it’s still going strong.
So is the petition satirical? Jim says not exactly. “I’m 100 percent sincere in my conviction that guns should be allowed at the GOP convention. [It would be a reflection of] the policies they sought to impose around the nation.”
He balked at the suggestion he was an Internet troll, arguing the petition is a genuine political statement.
Jim also mused on the logic of why he – the gun control advocate – had to start the petition. “If they believe this so strongly – that gun-free zones are dangerous – why am I the one raising the stink,” he remarked. “I think they should take up the cause. It would bring them up on intellectual consistency.”
You can read more about Jim and his intentions here, where he wonders about the failure of the party and its three remaining contestants to get behind his idea.
To his mind, their failure to get behind the idea can only mean two things: Either concerns about the dangers of open carry are valid (“In which case, why are we not applying it elsewhere?”), or RNC attendees are simply too important to risk allowing open carry. “Is there some variation in the value of life between presidential candidates, like Donald Trump, and the 7-year-old girl at McDonalds? I’m not sure I understand how they account for that distinction.”
His questions may seem flip, but Jim is sober and even soft-spoken as he asks them. He seems genuinely concerned about how we react to shooting tragedies, and how those reactions are then used to justify future gun laws. “They come out and they say, ‘Well, if it hadn’t been a gun-free zone in San Bernardino… they [would have been] able to defend themselves.'” (It’s a valid concern: Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick defended his state’s open-carry law with precisely that logic a few weeks after the San Bernardino shooting.)
Jim also describes reactions he has got to his petition.
Jim, a public health worker who says he is “absolutely” a gun control advocate, is based on the West Coast. He wonders why “the Republicans acquiesce so docilely” to the Secret Service simply denying them the right to have guns at their convention. In the petition, Jim quotes all three Republican candidates—Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich—each of whom have said they’d eliminate “gun-free zones” in areas such as schools and military facilities.
“Why shouldn’t guns be allowed [at the convention] if they should be allowed everywhere else?” says Jim. “I think it gives the candidates the easy out. Why doesn’t the Secret Service allow guns at the convention? Is it possible that it makes candidates and convention-goers less safe? Then can we ask them what they think about guns on playgrounds? Can we follow that advice?”
Good questions all. Well played, Jim.