Despite Jitters Over Guns, A Celebratory Mood As The RNC Opens In Cleveland

Jul 18, 2016
Originally published on July 18, 2016 2:29 pm

Clayton Allen, 21, walked right up to the 8-foot fence surrounding the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

He drove from Kentucky and he stood out from the crowd because he had a handgun strapped to his hip.

"I open-carry all the time," Allen said. "The Republican convention would not be the exception."

With the country reeling after shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., the issue of open carry in Cleveland has become a flashpoint. The head of Cleveland's largest police union called on Gov. John Kasich to suspend open carry for the duration of convention.

"I don't care if it's constitutional or not at this point," Stephen Loomis, president of Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association, told CNN.

In a news conference today, Mayor Frank Jackson said the idea had been taken up and down the chain of command and Kasich said he did not have the authority to change state law.

That means that people have been walking around downtown Cleveland with their firearms.

Allen said he decided to bring his handgun after the police shootings in Dallas. He said someone intent on carrying out something similar would be dissuaded by the show of force.

I reminded him that the police chief in Dallas had said bringing guns to protests wasn't helpful.

"We don't know who the good guy is versus who the bad guy is if everybody starts shooting," Chief David Brown said earlier this month.

Allen said he didn't believe that was true. Also, he didn't have plans to use his weapon. If something happened, he said, he would run as fast he could.

"There are enough police officers and Secret Service here to handle it," Allen said.

Really, he added, he just wanted to see what was going on. He was taking pictures of the scene — the few protesters, the Donald Trump swag, the loads of delegates coming off buses and into the arena.

The mood was celebratory. Inside the arena, the stage was lit up and hundreds of delegates took to the floor preparing to open up the proceedings.

Lucas Georgandellis, a doctor from Michigan, sat in the stands taking it all in.

He said everything happening in the country is not lost on him or on this convention. The theme of the first day, for example, is "Make America Safe Again."

Back outside, Annie Anderson had set up shop just outside the security perimeter. She was wearing red, white and blue, with a big sun hat.

She woke up early and was giving away little plastic bags with mints, a tiny American flag and a sticker that read, "Smile! Jesus loves you." This wasn't about politics for her. She's not a Trump supporter, she said. But she wanted to bring a little light to a dark time.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.