D.C. delegate calls for ban on guns near Obama

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called on the Homeland Security Department and the U.S. Secret Service on Wednesday to provide tighter restrictions on citizens carrying weapons, openly or concealed, while in the vicinity of President Barack Obama.

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Norton, who sits on the Homeland Security Committee, made the request after numerous news reports have shown groups of people brandishing firearms while outside of events held by Obama over the past several weeks.

“It is clear that if the Secret Service can temporarily clear all aircraft from air space when the president is in the vicinity, the agency has the authority to clear guns on the ground that are even closer to the President,” Norton said.

But the Secret Service says that Obama was never in danger when a group of about a dozen protesters brandished their firearms outside the Phoenix convention center earlier this week where he was speaking.

One man carried an AR-15 assault rifle, but Arizona law allows people to carry unconcealed guns and police made no arrests.

“This doesn’t change what already exists for Secret Service,” said Secret Service spokesman Malcolm Wiley of Norton’s request.

“Whenever the Secret Service travels somewhere in the country, we are able to determine what the security parameters will be for any particular site and anything within those parameters fall under federal law as far as being able to control what happens there.”

“So even if the state law says that you can have a gun as long as it’s not concealed, it doesn’t mean that you can bring a gun into a protected site.”

Norton has been battling with gun rights supporters for years because of the District’s former ban on handguns, which was struck down by the Supreme Court last year. More recently, a bill to grant the District a representational vote in Congress has stalled in the House because of an amendment that would make it easier to own a gun in D.C.

The Arizona event followed a similar instance in New Hampshire – which has open-carry laws – last week when police arrested a man for having a loaded, unlicensed gun in his car near where Obama was set to hold a healthcare-related forum. Another man outside of that event had a licensed handgun strapped to his leg and held a sign that read: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

“In both instances, those guys were outside of the outer-most perimeter of security, so what would apply is state law,” said Wiley. “They never had any proximity to the president at any time. They weren’t trying to gain access to the event and they weren’t in a position outside the event where they could have affected the president.”

But the Brady Campaign, a gun control group, said that these increasing instances of brandishing firearms in public could lead to escalated scenarios in the future that put the president at risk because it stretches law enforcement thin.

“Law enforcement has to keep an eye on these people,” said Paul Helmke, president of the group. “So the more people [who] carry guns, the more people you need to keep an eye on them, which stretches limited resources further. You get an event like in Phoenix with maybe 12 or 13 people, what if at the next event there are 100? And when you take the law enforcement resources away, that makes the president more vulnerable.”

Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, a gun rights group in Virginia, said that this is nothing new nor is it different than law-abiding gun owners bringing their weapons into restaurants, as they have been known to do periodically in the Commonwealth.

“There have been a few calls to the police and the police have come to the point now where they ask one question: ‘What are these gun carriers doing?’ And they get the response that they’re eating and say, ‘Well, if they start doing something, let us know.’ So when somebody goes to a rally, obviously if the president is there it’s going to get more attention, but I don’t think we’re really dealing with anything different.”