According to a number of press reports, about a dozen people carrying guns, including one with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder, stood among protesters outside a convention center in Arizona where President Barack Obama was giving a speech Aug. 17.
This appears to be the latest incident in which protesters have openly displayed firearms near the president.
In Arizona and several other states, it happens to be legal for people to purchase and carry these types of weapons without a permit. Gun-rights advocates say they are exercising their constitutional right to bear arms and protest; others who argue for more gun control say it could be a disaster waiting to happen.
I happen to be a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and strongly believe in our constitutional right to bear arms. However, I also have had the responsibility of overseeing the protection of several heads of state, including at one of the world’s largest gatherings — the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in September 2000.
I believe that there is no greater responsibility in this country than that of the men and women in our federal, state, and local law enforcement organizations charged with protecting the life of our president.
In order to protect the president, the Secret Service recruits other federal, state, and local agencies to assist them daily. The military supports the Secret Service through the use of explosive ordnance disposal teams and communications resources. When the president travels, an advance team of Secret Service agents works with host city and state law enforcement, as well as public safety officials, to jointly implement the necessary security measures.
Knowing and understanding the threats we face from terrorism alone is reason to ensure that the security arrangements for the president is of the highest standard. In addition to those possible threats, there are reports that the threats against this president are 400 percent higher than that of any other. If the threat and vulnerability assessments are accurate, this president and vice president should have the highest levels of security in the history of the Secret Service whether they like it or not.
There are reports that the vice president has ordered his protective detail be minimized during certain travel. We have also seen President Barack Obama mix it up with a crowd from time to time, and I assure you it was against the wishes of their detail leaders responsible for keeping them safe.
What principals like the president and vice president sometimes do not understand is that they have the responsibility to stay alive, just as the Secret Service has the responsibility to keep them alive.
If they intentionally or unintentionally interfere with or preclude the Secret Service from doing its job, they jeopardize their own lives as well as the lives of those charged with protecting them. Perhaps more importantly, they could jeopardize the stability of our country if something were to happen to them.
Allowing armed protesters to show up where the president is speaking is irresponsible and could cause a catastrophic security nightmare for those charged with protecting him.
It endangers the protective agents, the protesters, the public, and the president. It creates an immediate distraction as each armed protester then becomes a focus of observation for the agents.
Although Arizona and other states may allow the possession of these weapons, who can tell that the person carrying them at the time is not a threat to the president or others? An unidentified man who had a rifle slung over his shoulder told a reporter for the Arizona Republic, that “I still have some freedoms,” and he may be right. But freedom to create alarm and a possible threat to the president is not one of them.
Use some common sense.
That man may have no ill intent and possess his weapon legally, but what if someone not so nice takes it away? Why create scenarios where the protective agents focus is instinctually aimed at the weapon’s carriers? What if there is an accidental discharge by someone who is not that proficient with his or her weapon that creates a stampede or serious distraction?
No responsible gun owner, law enforcement executive, or public official should endorse or allow these armed protests anywhere near the president.
The president and his staff should let the Secret Service do its job, regardless of political correctness, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano should ensure that the president is protected at all cost . . . and if that includes stepping on some protester’s toes, so be it.
I’m all for the Second Amendment and our right to bear arms, but not at the cost of endangering the president. This is a dangerous practice and it must be stopped.
The job of protecting the president is hard enough. . . let’s not make it any harder for the men and women who have to do the job.
Bernard Kerik served as the 40th police commissioner of the City of New York and Iraq’s interim minister of interior following the fall of Saddam Hussein. Today he is the chairman of The Kerik Group LLC. Visit his Web site at: www.thekerikgroup.com.
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