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Secret Service: We’re not allowing firearms at the Republican National Convention

Reporters ask three candidates to respond to a petition that has racked up tens of thousands of signatures, urging Republican officials to allow guns at the RNC (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
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The Secret Service on Monday quashed the hopes of gun rights advocates who were pushing for the open carry of firearms to be allowed at this summer's Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

An online petition in support of the effort rapidly gained signatures and attention in the past week, applying pressure to pro-gun Republican officials and presidential contenders to walk the walk when it comes to guns. But on Monday, the Secret Service said that only law enforcement personnel will be allowed to carry firearms at the event.

"Title 18 United States Code Sections 3056 and 1752 provides the Secret Service authority to preclude firearms from entering sites visited by our protectees, including those located in open-carry states," Secret Service spokesman Robert K. Hoback said in a statement. "Only authorized law enforcement personnel working in conjunction with the Secret Service for a particular event may carry a firearm inside of the protected site."

Ticket or not, any unauthorized person with a gun will not be allowed into the event, he said.

Begun anonymously a week ago, the petition had collected more than 44,000 signatures as of early Monday afternoon, putting it well on its way to a goal of 50,000. Republican presidential contenders Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich were each asked about the petition, which none directly backed.

"All that matters is what the Secret Service says," Kasich said after an event in Wisconsin on Monday. "One of the things about security that I’ve had to learn over time is that when they tell you not to do something, you don’t do it, it’s for your interest. And the Secret Service is very important in these decisions as is security around the entire convention."

Like Kasich, Cruz also deferred to the agency.

"I haven't reviewed the particular petition," Cruz told reporters in Altoona, Wis., on Monday. "I will say, at the convention the Secret Service is going to have the principal decision-making concerning security and so that you would certainly want to get the recommendation from Secret Service -- how to maintain security for everyone."

Trump declined to weigh in on Sunday, saying he would have to read "the fine print."

"I have to see what it says," he told ABC's Jonathan Karl, who asked him about the petition on the Sunday morning political show "This Week." "I'm a very, very strong person for Second Amendment. I think very few people are stronger. And I have to see the petition. But I'm not going to comment to you when I haven't seen it."

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The petition calls on each Republican presidential contender, the National Rifle Association, the Republican National Committee and Chairman Reince Priebus, convention host site Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich to do what they can to allow convention attendees to openly carry firearms. The arena currently bans firearms and other weapons, it says on its website.

"Without the right to protect themselves, those at the Quicken Loans Arena will be sitting ducks, utterly helpless against evil-doers, criminals or others who wish to threaten the American way of life," the petition's author argues. Some have speculated that such dramatic language makes it sound as though the whole thing is a ruse intended to put Republicans in a tough political spot.

Regardless, it did put GOP officials and presidential candidates in the awkward position of tolerating the types of gun restrictions they often criticize. How can Republicans support open carry but not push for it to be allowed at their own convention?

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), for example, suggested in December that gun-free zones attract killers.

"If you're a lunatic, ain't nothing better than having a bunch of targets you know that are going to be unarmed," he said.

A month later, Trump echoed that sentiment, saying he would end "gun-free zones" at schools and on military bases.

"You know what a gun-free zone is to sickos? That's bait!" he said in early January.

Republican presidential candidates weigh in on proposals for dealing with gun restrictions (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Petition organizers first identified themselves as "Americans for Responsible Open Carry" -- a group about which little is known, the Akron Beacon Journal reported last week. Now, the only identifier is the author's pseudonym: the Hyperationalist.

The week-old petition exceeded an earlier goal of 5,000 signatures by Thursday night, according to the Beacon Journal. It passed the 25,000-signature mark as of two days ago and surpassed 40,000 signatures late Sunday.

A Republican National Committee spokeswoman said the group was merely following the Secret Service's lead.

"The Republican Party has been and will continue to be a staunch supporter of the 2nd amendment. It is in our Platform and is strongly supported by our candidates," Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement. "The Republican National Convention is a National Special Security Event which means the Secret Service is the lead agency and we will defer to their planning as it relates to safety and security of the Convention."

Firearms were similarly banned for attendees of the 2012 Republican convention in Tampa. Requests for comment from arena officials were not immediately returned.

This post was updated. Sean Sullivan and David Weigel contributed.