It was hard to tell at first whether a hugely popular Change.org petition calling for Quicken Loans Arena to allow open carry of firearms at July's Republican National Convention was serious.
In the kind of language an ardent defender of the Second Amendment might use, its author laid out his case: Ohio is an open-carry state, the GOP has been a champion of expanding gun rights generally, and the three remaining presidential candidates have repeatedly railed against "gun-free zones" like the one that the arena's strict "no firearm" policy creates specifically.
The petition was signed and circulated online by both earnest gun rights supporters and advocates for gun control, who seemed delighted by the idea of Republicans having to reckon with the policies they've propagated. Change.org itself seemed confused — in a statement to The Guardian Monday, a spokesperson for the website said the petition was not satire.
Rolling Stone spoke to the petition's author, Jim, who asked not to share his last name after receiving some frightening messages in connection to the petition. He says the petition is, in fact, earnest — but that doesn't mean that he's a big Second Amendment guy. He isn't.
"I'm 100 percent genuine in my belief that they should be able to have guns at their convention," he says. "It's consistent with state law, and if people who go to movie theaters and malls and shopping places and restaurants have the quote-unquote 'protection' of the open carrying citizens around them, well, I think the GOP should have the same."
Jim says he's in his late 30s and was born in St. Louis, but now lives on the West Coast. He works in public health. He's a Democrat.
He doesn't claim the petition idea is original — similar arguments have been made about past political conventions and NRA gatherings — but he says there was something about the idea of this year's potentially contested convention that seemed to bring Republican arguments for open carry into stark relief.
Open carry would be particularly bad idea this year, wouldn't it? "Or is it a particularly good idea?" Jim shoots back. "If you use their logic, it is all the more vital that they have guns this year than any other year in the past. There is no argument against guns at the convention if you think that's the safest thing for everybody else. I'm fighting for their rights by taking them at face value."
Jim blogs and tweets under the pseudonym The Hyperationalist, a name that neatly sums up the petition's purpose: to follow Republican's arguments for the expansion of gun rights to their rational conclusion.
It's Republicans, Jim says, who "should be starting this movement, if they are sincere in their beliefs."
To his mind, their failure to get behind the idea can only mean two things: Either concerns about the dangers of open carry are valid ("In which case, why are we not applying it elsewhere?"), or RNC attendees are simply too important to risk allowing open carry. "Is there some variation in the value of life between presidential candidates, like Donald Trump, and the 7-year-old girl at McDonalds? I'm not sure I understand how they account for that distinction."
None of the three Republican candidates has supported Jim's effort. Ted Cruz said he wasn't familiar enough with the petition to comment on it, and Donald Trump said he wanted to study the "fine print" ("There is no fine print — it's all large and easily readable and it doesn't take very long," Jim says). John Kasich and the Republican National Committee both said the decision was up to the Secret Service, which is providing security for the event. "The government can't take our guns but the Department of the Treasury can?" Jim asks, referring to the agency within which the Secret Service operates.
"I think it's just really uncomfortable for them," he says of the RNC. "They don't want guns at the convention. They know it's a bad idea. That's why no one has ever raised a stink about it. But their silence speaks volumes."
His questions may seem flip, but Jim is sober and even soft-spoken as he asks them. He seems genuinely concerned about how we react to shooting tragedies, and how those reactions are then used to justify future gun laws. "They come out and they say, 'Well, if it hadn't been a gun-free zone in San Bernardino... they [would have been] able to defend themselves.'" (It's a valid concern: Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick defended his state's open-carry law with precisely that logic a few weeks after the San Bernardino shooting.)
Still, he's not naive enough to think the petition — 50,000 signatures strong at this point — would make a difference. "I know there was never going to be guns at the convention; that's a given," Jim says. "There was never going to be guns at the convention because the Secret Service gets to set those rules — because there are lives to protect that are, apparently, more valuable than other lives."