RICHMOND, Va. – Armed protests in the United States are six times more likely to turn violent as unarmed protests, according to a new report, and researchers say the growing numbers of these demonstrations pose a threat to democracy.
The report examined more than 30,000 demonstrations across the country in the past 18 months, many in state capitals, said Justin Wagner, director of investigations for Everytown for Gun Safety, who led the research team. He said rallies with folks who bear arms, especially in states such as Virginia with open-carry gun laws, have been on the rise since a January 2020 pro-gun rally in Richmond.
“In the last two years or so, there’s been an increasingly frequent refrain of right-wing militant groups – whether it’s the Oath Keepers, or Three Percenters, Proud Boys – who are taking to demonstrations and using guns to intimidate,” Wagner said, “and we think that intimidation is really dangerous to our democracy.”
Many protesters who bring guns to rallies have said it’s their constitutional right, and that bringing firearms to public spaces can make people safer. However, the study found demonstrations involving at least one armed individual tend to be violent or destructive nearly 16% of the time.
Wagner explained that the majority of demonstrations that encourage guns have been driven by reactions to left-wing activism, and by far-right mobilization. He noted that armed rallies have become so common that the nation has seen more than 500 of them in just the last year and a half.
“The peak of armed protests was the summer of 2020, and there was a secondary peak around the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol,” he said. “Since then, the numbers have actually been on the rise, and in June we’ve seen armed protests significantly on the rise compared to where they were earlier in the year.”
The report found that the top states for numbers of armed demonstrations are Oregon, Texas, Washington state and Pennsylvania, all of which allow open-carry of firearms. Pennsylvania and Washington state allow open carry without a permit.