Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Security plan for Republican National Convention will permit guns in area

City officials have repeatedly said that state law limits their ability to restrict guns near the convention. The security plan also creates designated protest zones, which demonstrators suing the city say are inadequate.

MILWAUKEE (CN) — Federal and local law enforcement overseeing security for the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee this summer released a security plan on Friday that will allow people to carry guns within blocks of the convention.

The plan — unveiled at a news conference by officials with the U.S. Secret Service, the Milwaukee Police Department and the office of Mayor Cavalier Johnson, a Democrat — also designates two stages and a parade route that can be used by protesters during the convention. These designated areas have not satisfied a coalition of demonstrators, which is suing the city over protest restrictions it claims are unconstitutional.

The plan will create security perimeters that extend for blocks around convention sites in downtown Milwaukee, including the Fiserv Forum, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena and the Baird Center.

The movement of vehicles and pedestrians will be restricted within those perimeters from July 14 until the early morning hours of July 19. The convention itself will run from July 15 to 18.

An inner security perimeter, called the “pedestrian restricted perimeter,” will be accessible only to credentialed or ticketed individuals like convention attendees or volunteers. Personal vehicles, bicycles and small scooters will be prohibited in this area, the plan states, as will taxis, rideshares and food-delivery vehicles.

An outer perimeter, called the “vehicle screening perimeter,” will be open to all pedestrians and bicyclists with no screening or credentials required. Vehicles attempting to enter this area will need to move through one of five checkpoints.

In accordance with state law, the open and concealed carry of firearms will be allowed within this outer perimeter. No weapons of any kind will be allowed within the inner one.

The city is limited by state law in how much it can restrict the carrying of firearms near convention sites — though city officials promise they've done all they can to keep visitors safe. “We went up to the line through whatever we can do within state statute,” said Nick DeSiato, the chief of staff for Mayor Johnson.

Furthermore, those who do plan to carry firearms within the outer perimeter should be mindful about how authorities might perceive them, Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman said. “Don’t do anything that could be considered a threat or harm to the public.”

An ordinance passed this month by the Milwaukee Common Council drew nationwide headlines for banning items like tennis balls, coolers, ladders and aerosol cans within the convention’s security footprint — but not guns.

As with the security plan, state law limited what gun restrictions could be included in that ordinance, city officials said at the time.

Within the outer perimeter, there will be two speaker’s platforms for demonstrators, as well as a parade route encompassing several blocks around Zeidler Union Square, DeSiato said.

More than 100 organizations have applied to protest at the convention so far, he said, adding: "We just didn’t have enough hours in the day” to accommodate them all at a single speaker’s platform.

Other officials at Friday’s news conference spoke about efforts to not only accommodate peaceful and lawful protests but also to ensure a safe and successful convention.

“We have been busy preparing for any possible scenario, including planned and pop-up demonstrations,” said Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle. “While recent concerns about demonstration outside the RNC have been raised, I would like to reassure everyone that the Secret Service and our public safety partners respect every American’s First Amendment right to express themselves.”

“The expectation is: Express yourself," Norman, the city police chief, added. "This is what our Constitution is based on — but we will not tolerate anything beyond that particular type of activity. Because this is our city, and we’re proud of it."

Still, the ACLU of Wisconsin said the security proposal falls short of what would be required to accomodate the First Amendment rights of prospective protesters. The civil rights group is representing the coalition of protesters who sued the city earlier this month.

“We were surprised and disappointed to see how many blocks of downtown Milwaukee the Secret Service has declared off limits to anyone but convention attendees," ACLU lawyer Tim Muth said in a press release. "The large size of this zone makes it more critical than ever that the city take steps to allow for effective opportunities for expression and assembly by those with differing viewpoints."

The ACLU and the city tried but failed to resolve their legal dispute at a mediation session earlier this week. The federal lawsuit, which is in the court of Donald Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig, has a scheduling conference slated for Monday morning.

Protesters involved in the case want to be able to demonstrate where they can see and hear convention activities at Fiserv Forum — and where convention attendees can see and hear them. That's the main sticking point between protesters and the city.

The expansion of the credentialed zone in the security plan does not allow for that — “an impermissible concession to the Republican National Committee, which did not want to see or hear demonstrators near its convention," Muth said.

“We hope for a swift ruling that will vindicate the coalition’s plan for a march that passes within sight and sound of Fiserv Forum,” he added.

Follow @cnsjkelly
Categories / Politics, Regional

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.