Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said people are entitled to carry weapons outside such events if local laws allow it. “There are laws that govern firearms that are done state or locally,” he said. “Those laws don't change when the president comes to your state or locality.”
Anti-gun campaigners disagreed with Gibbs's comments, voicing fears that volatile debates over health-care reform are more likely to turn violent if gun control is not enforced.
“What Gibbs said is wrong,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “Individuals carrying loaded weapons at these events require constant attention from police and Secret Service officers. It's crazy to bring a gun to these events. It endangers everybody.”
The past week has seen a spate of men carrying firearms while milling outside meetings Obama has held to defend his health-care reform effort. On Monday, a man with an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle strapped to his shoulder was outside a veterans' event in Phoenix. He was one of a dozen men who reportedly had guns outside the forum.
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Phoenix police made no arrests, saying Arizona law allows weapons to be carried in the open.
Last week, a man with a gun strapped to his leg held a sign outside an Obama town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., that read: “It's time to water the tree of liberty.” Read more