Gun-rights advocates say Coliseum staff challenged free-speech rights
By Will Jones
Published: June 27, 2009
The Virginia Citizens Defense League is used to fighting for the right to carry guns.
But now it's having to defend the right to wear stickers about carrying guns.
The group says officials at the Richmond Coliseum recently attempted to stop members from handing out blaze-orange "Guns Save Lives" stickers before an appearance by radio and television talk-show host Glenn Beck.
"It's bad enough they're trying to trample the Second Amendment. Then you come and attack the First," President Philip Van Cleave said, referring to the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of the right to bear arms and to free speech.
Dolly Vogt, who manages the Coliseum as a regional general manager for SMG, did not respond to three messages Friday. Van Cleave described the incident and his group's concerns to the City Council on Monday. A city spokesman had no comment but said officials are looking into the matter.
Van Cleave said the confrontation occurred June 6 as guests were arriving to see Beck, a defender of guns-rights and other personal liberties. Group members were handing out stickers when Coliseum officials told them to stop and advised that stickers were banned from the city-owned venue, he said.
"Our people stood their ground, [saying] this is public, this is freedom of speech," Van Cleave said.
Then, Coliseum officials turned their attention to people who were wearing the stickers as they entered the building. "They had to throw the stickers away," he said. "They couldn't hide it."
Van Cleave said most people followed the instructions. He said the incident was particularly disturbing because other stickers were being worn into the show without any apparent objection.
"I think that kind of speaks for itself," he said. "It was about our sticker."
Rebecca K. Glenberg, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said members of Van Cleave's group were clearly within their rights if they were handing out stickers on public property. She said it's less clear whether Coliseum officials could ban stickers but added that any restriction would have to be enforced evenly and be reasonable in a way that's unrelated to content.
"They cannot prohibit stickers about guns while allowing stickers about other topics," she said.
Van Cleave suspects Coliseum officials are still chaffed from last month's challenge by group members that he said established that guns could be brought into the venue if carried openly or concealed with a permit.
"They didn't want to advertise that you could legally carry there," he said.
A list of banned items on the Coliseum's Web site includes laser pointers, backpacks and stickers; however, Van Cleave said his group determined through Internet searches that stickers were added after the Beck show.
He said the Virginia Citizens Defense League isn't looking to file a lawsuit or asking for an apology.
"We just want this policy changed and that be the end of it," he said.