Ahead of next ReOpen NC rally, law professor explains NC’s provision forbidding armed protesters

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The sight of armed protesters in Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood Friday disturbed people who live there.

Protesters on their way downtown Friday said Raleigh police officers told them they couldn’t protest and carry firearms at the same time.

“We have the right to protest and they don’t dispute that. We have the right to bear arms and they don’t dispute that. They said we’re not allowed to do both at once,” said ReOpen NC supporter Stephen Wagner.

Protesters argued the law violates their Second Amendment rights.

“The right to bear arms is not absolute. There are several exceptions,” said Campbell University law professor Greg Wallace.

Wallace said there is a North Carolina statute preventing people from carrying firearms on picket lines or demonstrations on public property.

“North Carolina is only one of four states plus the District of Columbia that bans firearms at protests. It’s a misdemeanor if it happens,” he said.

According to Wallace, armed protesters were charged with violating that statute at an anti-KKK rally in Durham in 2017. He said if any protesters show up armed to Tuesday’s ReOpen NC rally at the state capitol or surrounding streets, they could also be charged.

However, Wallace said there is a debate if that statute is constitutional under the Second Amendment.

“I understand certainly that people are upset when they see people outside on a street or sidewalk carrying a firearm. I certainly understand that. That’s why I don’t think its a good idea, but whether it’s a good idea or not doesn’t make it unconstitutional,” Wallace said.

Wallace points to a 2008 Supreme Court case, District of Columbia vs. Heller, as another exception to the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, not just a state or militia, but that right is not unlimited.

“The Heller decision recognized there are certain sensitive places such as a school or government building where firearms can constitutionally be banned,” Wallace said.

Another North Carolina law bans “Going armed to the terror of the people.”

“It’s much more of a restriction on the manner in which a person is carrying a firearm rather than the place. If a person is brandishing a firearm, such as waving it around or pointing it at people,” Wallace said.

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