Raleigh has been the site of marches the last couple weeks involving various groups exercising their “Second Amendment” rights, by which they mean to terrorize the local populace by displaying dangerous weapons and walking up and down downtown streets. Recently they were spotted at the Oakwood Cemetary, and this past weekend they were in the middle of downtown near Fayetteville and Martin streets.
The Raleigh Police Department has done nothing to stop this conduct, and has even gone so far as to post a message on Facebook claiming that state law prohibits the police department from stopping people who walk through the streets with dangerous weapons:
The Raleigh Police Department is actively engaged and monitoring closely the recent Walk the Iron events that occurred in Downtown Raleigh. In addition to the Raleigh Police Department, the Raleigh City Council and our community have expressed concerns about the perception of these events. However, our actions must comply with existing State law.
North Carolina law permits individuals who are lawfully allowed to possess a firearm to openly display such a firearm while on public property, such as a city sidewalk. Additionally, State law prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances restricting the possession or carrying of firearms, except in very limited circumstances.
While State law does not permit individuals to possess a dangerous weapon when they are participating in or spectating at a protest, there is nothing that prohibits an individual, or a group of individuals, from walking on a city sidewalk while carrying and displaying firearms. Whether such an individual or a group is violating that law will depend on the circumstances. The Raleigh Police Department, in consultation with the Wake County District Attorney, will evaluate each circumstance as it arises.
Similarly, State law does not prohibit individuals from carrying firearms into private businesses. Business owners are permitted to make a determination as to whether or not to allow people to carry firearms on their premises.
RPD is simply incorrect. Going Armed to the Terror of the People has been a criminal offense at common law for at least the last 180 years. While North Carolinians are permitted to walk the streets with holstered pistols – so-called “open carry” – the state’s gun laws prohibit a person from arming himself with an unusual and dangerous weapon for the purpose of terrifying others, going in public, and in a manner to cause terror to people.
Any gun is an unusual and dangerous weapon for the purposes of this offense. State v. Huntly, 25 N.C. 418 (1843). While Huntly, the defendant who had carried a shotgun, argued that even in the 1840s guns were so common as to not be unusual, the state Supreme Court rejected that argument, concluding “[a] gun is an ‘unusual weapon,’ wherewith to be armed and clad. No man amongst us carries it about with him, as one of his every day accoutrements – as part of his dress – and never we trust will the day come when any deadly weapon will be worn or wielded in our peace loving and law-abiding State, as an appendage of manly equipment.”
It is true that now with open-carry, the display of a holstered handgun would not constitute the crime of Going Armed to the Terror of the People.
In State v. Lanier, 71 N.C. 288 (1874), Lanier was accused of Going Armed to the Terror of the People when he rode his horse through a courthouse. No weapons were observed. And yet, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld his conviction, stating “we think it may be conceded that the driving or riding without arms through a courthouse… at such a rate or in such a manner as to endanger the safety of the inhabitants amounts to a breach of the peace.”
While a person may display unusual arms on his own property, public display of dangerous weapons is illegal if the public experience fear. The North Carolina Supreme Court has repeatedly held that it does not matter whether the area in which the illegal conduct occurs is heavily populated. Even if only a few people are around to see the conduct, the conduct is illegal.