OPINION: Support Camas youth? Denounce guns at protests

If one thing stands out from last weekend’s “Back the Blue” pro-police rally in downtown Camas, it should be this: several young people from the Black Lives Matter counterprotest reported feeling threatened by people armed with baseball bats, handguns and long guns.

If that doesn’t make Camas leaders take note, we don’t know what will.

After all, this community is nothing if not proud of its young people. We see it all the time — in the parades and celebrations for our state-champion football players; in the strong show of support for the Camas School District’s multi-million dollar bond packages; in the blanketing of downtown Camas with signs supporting local Class of 2020 grads who missed out on their traditional pomp and circumstance.

Knowing the city’s history of supporting its youth, we can only hope Camas leaders will not dismiss the young people who said they felt unsafe on the streets of downtown Camas after several people showed up to the “Back the Blue” rally armed with deadly weapons.

Granted, there isn’t too much local officials can actually do. Under Washington law, it is perfectly legal for people to openly carry loaded handguns and long guns to political demonstrations. Some states — California, Illinois, North Carolina, Alabama and Maryland — have enacted laws prohibiting firearms at political demonstrations, but Washington is behind the curve on that particular public safety matter.

Still, it would be good to hear Camas officials come out against the public display of firearms in the city’s downtown core, especially considering the fact that gun violence at political demonstrations has been ramping up over the past few years.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence recently listed 40 incidents of armed protesters openly carrying firearms in a Aug. 31 article, “Armed Protesters Inspire Fear, Chill Free Speech,” and pointed out that “researchers have suggested that the presence of visible firearms may increase aggressive and violent behaviors. It can also escalate into tragic violence.”

The list of 40 incidents that have occurred in the United States this year alone includes the Aug. 29 death of a Patriot Prayer supporter, who was shot dead on the streets of Portland last weekend, allegedly by a BLM supporter; the Aug. 25 murders of two BLM protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, allegedly by a 17-year-old “Back the Blue” supporter who brought a loaded long gun to a BLM protest 20 miles from his home; and an Aug. 15 incident in Portland involving shots fired and a fight between the far-right Proud Boys and BLM protesters.

The kids who are fighting for a more just world and crying out for their city, state and federal leaders to address the vast racial inequities that exist in our nation’s police and justice systems have already been horrified by school shootings and countless videos showing the deaths of Black people at the hands of police — not to mention recent videos showing BLM protesters and pro-Trump supporters being gunned down on America’s streets.

Our young people in Camas do not deserve to be traumatized even more by those who insist on bringing deadly weapons to political demonstrations protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In the future, when people organize local rallies and protests, Camas leaders should make it abundantly clear that, although they lack the ability to prohibit it under the law, they do not condone people bringing firearms to such events — and make steps to ensure people are fully protected by those who show up to protests armed with guns.

If they can’t do that, then these young people who are so passionate about creating a more peaceful world should do what they do best — organize, get out the vote and elect leaders who truly care about their right to feel safe in their own city.

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