Can you be legally armed at a protest?

A macro detail shot of a Smith & Wesson M & P Shield 40

The right to peaceably assemble and protest your grievances with the government, whether your grievance is right or wrong, is as important as the right to keep and bear arms in this country. But, can both be put together? Can you march while under arms?

On paper, this is part of the reason the Second Amendment exists, to resist government tyranny by force of arms. However, despite the simple wording of the Second Amendment, the right has been checked by laws, policies and traditions throughout our history. And some laws proscribe and define the right to protest while under arms.

The short answer

The short answer - it depends. There’s no specific federal laws addressing the right to keep and bear arms while protesting. If federal law was the only answer, it would be a resounding “yes” - you can practice the First Amendment, concurrently with the Second.

The long answer

Your mileage may vary. States and municipalities have spoken on the issue of protesting under arms, with the majority permitting it. However, it pays to know the details. Even while protesting, the laws concerning firearms in your jurisdiction still apply. For example, here in Florida, open carry (with exceptions) is prohibited, and you cannot do so at a protest. However, concealed carry is OK. You can march around, with a legally-carried handgun or pistol properly concealed. But, there’s a check on that right. If an official state of emergency is declared in a certain jurisdiction, the Second Amendment is effectively suspended outside of one’s home, per 870.044. In my humble opinion, it’s an unjust law, as during a state of emergency, that’s probably when you are most likely to need your firearm outside of your home. Whether the law is enforced or not exclusively (i.e. police checkpoints for people with guns, etc…)I do not currently know. However, I do surmise that during a legitimate state of emergency, the cops have their hands full with more pressing matters than spot-checking people going from one place to another.

Disclaimer: I’m not endorsing breaking the law, I’m offering an observation on the situation. I’m not saying that is what I would do. Do what you will, just don’t blame me if something untoward happens. Note, that here in Florida, the suspension of rights only occurs during a civil disturbance. If we’re getting smacked by a hurricane, and the governor declares a state of emergency, we can still carry.

As for other states, Google is your friend. Sound off in the comments if you find any interesting legislation.

If trouble finds you, defend yourself

As they say, the first rule of a gunfight is not to get into one. Keep your eye on social media, blogs, and the news. Protests don’t emerge spontaneously. Even protests done without the explicit knowledge of the government take time and effort to plan. Those plans do leak out. If you sense a group with less-than-peaceable intentions is assembling somewhere, try not to be in that area. Drive around. Take the scenic route home. Same for riots. Riots aren’t spontaneous. There’s a buildup. If you sense something is going to turn nasty, try not to be there, or if you are there, get out, quickly.

But, if trouble finds you - you have every legal right to defend yourself if you are lawfully armed. Hopefully it will never come to that, but if it does, it is legal for you to exercise your right to self-defense.

For example, you work Downtown. There’s been some protesting going on for whichever issue is fashionable this week. By 3 PM it’s getting a little rowdy, so maybe you decide to cut out early. On the way to your car, things really start to spiral out of control, and it’s chaos by the time you get to the parking lot. Between you and your car there’s a lot of bad hombres (I had to, come on…) up to no good. One of them decides that you and your fancy Zero Halliburton attaché case are fair game. He rushes you, armed with an improvised club, a chain, or a gun. Weapon doesn’t matter, this guy has it out for you and wants that briefcase. Trouble found you. You have the right to defend yourself, provided you are lawfully carrying your weapon.

Sidebar - yes, I’m aware we all have the natural right to defend ourselves by any means necessary - I advocate it, as a matter of fact. But for the purposes of this article, I’m citing laws as a matter of advice, so I have to keep it at that level.

But anyways, if you lawfully are carrying that firearm at that moment, and you get attacked - defend yourself.

Train for it

Civil disturbances aren’t covered in basic firearms courses. For this, you have to seek out more advanced training. There’s scads of higher-level trainers out there, such as Miami’s DA1 Industries, who can provide any level of training, for a price of course. As far as quality, Google, and the community as a whole, is your friend. Lately I’ve found Reddit’s /r/Firearms to be a great resource. Reddit is a hive of chaos, but it’s a great resource, and one of the few social networks that tends to leave “gun people” alone.

Training is great, and it’s fun - but in the end, sometimes the most potent weapon is the mass of neurons in your skull. Keep an eye out, plan, and be proactive. Sometimes the best defense is to not even play the game.