BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The annual Brunswick Christmas parade is at the center of some controversy after a pro-Second Amendment group said its members were denied the opportunity to march in the parade carrying their weapons.
Michael Morris, the leader of the Georgia chapter of It’s Our Right, said his group was twice blocked from participating in other community events and arranged a meeting with the Downtown Development Authority to discuss why.
Morris said the DDA offered a compromise, saying members could march in the DDA-sponsored Christmas parade and carry their weapons, if they got a permit.
“We asked then -- while in person -- if we could have our firearms in the parade. We were told we could and we accepted the application,” Morris said in a statement on the group's Facebook page. “We are a Second Amendment group and are well known in the city. It was made clear when we got the application that we would have our firearms, at which time the application was given to us.”
But DDA Executive Director Mathew Hill said whether or not guns could be carried was never discussed when the group's application was submitted.
“At no time was the group told they could or could not participate with their guns,” Hill said in a statement.
The parade will begin at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Howard Coffin Park. Over 100 floats, vehicles, walking groups and marching band units will make their way 1 mile down the length of Gloucester Street to Mary Ross Waterfront Park in the heart of the Old Town National Register Historic District.
Morris told News4Jax that his group opted to take the parade compromise and got the appropriate permit, but he said after everything, including the entry fee, was turned in, the DDA decided the group would not be allowed to carry guns while marching because that is not “in the spirit of the Christmas parade.”
“We’re a Second Amendment group and our whole intention -- we didn’t even bring the parade up -- the director offered the parade up and offered a parade application,” Morris said.
Hill characterized the denial differently, saying in a statement that “the group was asked to consider the spirit and atmosphere of the parade and concerns attendees may have at seeing a group of armed individuals in a holiday parade.”
Morris said the group was told it could still participate, but could not openly carry firearms.
Morris said that instead, his group's members are now planning to show up as bystanders to watch the parade and have notified police they will be legally carrying their weapons. They also plan to pursue legal action against the city of Brunswick and the DDA.
“The biggest thing right now is everyone has a fear of firearms. Everyone thinks that if you see a firearm it’s bad, if you see a firearm there’s going to be a shooting, and that’s not the case,” Morris said. “We’re all law-abiding citizens. We make sure everyone that comes to our rallies, they have the proper permits.”
But some area residents disagree. Even those who support Second Amendment rights feel the Christmas parade isn’t the place to make a statement about legally carrying guns.
“I’m all for the Second Amendment. Everybody’s got the right to bear arms -- but not at Christmas,” Becky Johnson said.
Hill offered another compromise in his statement:
“The city of Brunswick and the DDA support the constitutional rights of our residents, and if the group wants to organize their own event, they are certainly allowed to do so.”