Photo by David Levêque on Unsplash

They tell you never to bring a knife to a gunfight. Bringing either to a protests undermines its legitimacy and overshadows its purpose.

A couple of days ago I wrote about why I won’t denounce people protesting for freedom of movement. While moving about and gathering with others might not be the wisest thing right now I’d find it problematic not to have the legal ability to do so, a stance I stand by.

I have been following protests around the world over the past few weeks, and things seem to be especially tense in the US, where some protestors have been armed. Gun legislation and gun-culture in the US is a deeply complex issue that reaches far into both historic and current injustices and equality before the law. It’s safe to say many of those visibly carrying weapons in protests do so under the protection of their white privilege in a country where minorities, even unarmed ones, routinely are met with severe hostility and violence by authorities.

The problem with bringing guns to a protest is that it’s inherently contradictory to the purpose of protesting. A protest is a part of a conversation, an element of free expression. Guns are effective tools for ending the conversation – either through intimidation or through death.

The use of arms by authorities to end the conversation is no more legitimate than the use of arms by civilian protesters. However, civilians carrying weapons for protests tend to lead to an unfortunate cycle of escalation that in the eyes of authorities will be seen as justification for using violence against protestors, or shut down protests – often without regard for the level of violence committed, or threatened with, by the individual. In the eyes of the public governments shutting down armed protests is often seen as more legitimate than the shutdown of non-violent protests. This can lead to violence at a much larger scale than intended by the protestors, and might also largely spill beyond the scope of the protest and lead to state-violence against innocent bystanders and others not directly participating in the protest as we have seen in some of the crackdowns against civilians for simply gathering on the streets in the US.

The loss of legitimacy increases as the levels of violence escalates – it vanishes when threats and intimidation are directed at non-violent frontline workers, when guns are wielded against hospital staff – in the recent protests against the shutdowns we have even seen people get arrested with pipe-bombs, in essence for terrorism.

Bringing guns to a protest is thus an effective way both to get shut down, to end the conversation, to lose legitimacy, and to lose the support of the public. Bringing guns to a protest also shifts the conversation from being about whatever the protest was for, to being about guns.

In other words, don’t bring guns to a protest – it is the best way to ruin it.