Did rifle-toting Obama protester help or hurt gun rights?
New laws are allowing more Americans to carry guns in public. But are gun-carrying protesters going too far?
The appearance of weapons near the president at a speech and a healthcare town hall has been cast as either a danger to the president and public debate or a sign of that gun ownership is gradually losing its stigma.
A man in a shirt and tie carried a shoulder-slung rifle near President Obama's entourage in Phoenix Tuesday. Since carrying a gun is legal in Arizona, police did not take action against him or any other gun-carrying protesters.
To many liberals, such displays are a worrisome sign that the president's opponents are trying to intimidate public discourse. "Loaded weapons at political forums endanger all involved, distract law enforcement, and end up stifling debate," says Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in a statement issued Tuesday.
But many gun-rights experts see another trend at work: the "re-normalization" of gun ownership in the United States. So-called "must-issue" laws, which mandate that anyone who meets the requirements for a gun permit must be issued one, are spreading to more states. Congress has broadened the rights of gun owners recently, for example allowing guns in federal parks. And the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller last year emboldened gun owners, experts say. It confirmed that the constitutional right "to keep and bear arms" is not a state right, as some gun-control advocates had argued, but an individual right.