TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Organizers of a small-town Kansas parade decided Friday night that they won’t stop Republican candidate Kris Kobach from having a replica machine gun on a jeep after initially objecting to a key symbol of his campaign for governor and support for gun rights.
The organizing committee for Iola’s Farm City Days previously told Kobach’s campaign that it would have to remove the replica gun. But Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, said Friday that requiring him to ride without the machine gun mounted on back would violate his free-speech rights.
Daniel Schowengerdt, attorney for the parade’s organizing committee, said Kobach “was coming regardless” to Saturday’s parade with the jeep and the committee’s volunteers never intended to “forcibly prevent him from entering.”
The committee now expects Kobach to place an orange cap on the machine gun’s barrel, to show to parade-goers that it is a replica. And, Schowengerdt said, the committee expects an 11-inch by 17-inch sign on the jeep saying the committee “does not condone the display of large-scale military weapons” in the parade.
The sign also is supposed to say: “The Farm City Days committee does support the Second Amendment.”
But Kobach’s supporters have scheduled a short gun-rights rally before the parade, said Virginia Crossland-Macha, a local GOP activist. She said Kobach is expected to speak about the First and Second Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protecting speech and gun ownership.
Iola, with about 5,700 residents, is about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City. It is the seat of Allen County, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 2-to-1 and President Donald Trump received 67 percent of the vote in 2016. Kobach carried it in a crowded GOP primary in August with nearly 43 percent of the vote.
Crossland-Macha said she was upset enough about the committee’s initial decision several weeks ago to resign as its president. She was not present when that decision was made.
She said Farm City Days is nonpartisan and staffed by volunteers and was drawn into “a mess” potentially hurting the event.
“I just find it kind of crazy,” she said before the committee’s latest decision.
Kobach has been riding in the jeep with the replica gun at least since June. Its appearance then in a suburban Kansas City parade prompted criticism, an apology from the sponsoring city and what Kobach derided as a “snowflake meltdown.” Besides using it to bolster his gun-rights credentials, Kobach used the jeep to symbolize his defiance of liberal critics.
But Schowengerdt said organizing committee members felt the gun’s “wartime message” clashed with the event’s message of bringing farms and cities together. He said the committee stands by that assessment.
He said organizers had no problem with the jeep, which is decorated with U.S. flag designs and has a bobblehead of President Donald Trump on its hood — only with the replica machine gun. He said under past U.S. Supreme Court decisions, private parade organizers have a right to choose the content of their events.
“This is not a leftist organization,” Schowengerdt said. “In fact, the vast majority of the people on the committee are gun-owning Republicans.”
He said his ongoing discussions with Kobach, a former law professor, were “positive” and “productive,” though the two disagree on legal issues.
“We did discuss, if this went to court, what we think would happen,” he said. “No one threatened anyone.”
The entry form for the parade does not mention firearms or mounted guns but says parade organizers “reserve the right to refuse entry to any person, group or entity. It also bans semi-trucks and tells participants that they cannot throw candy or other items from a float or vehicle.
Kobach said Iola is the first community to express any reluctance about the replica machine gun.
“In contrast, we’ve had mayors from other cities asking us to bring the gun,” Kobach said. “The Second Amendment applies as well in the city as it does in the country, and there is no conflict whatsoever between the joining of city and country and the Second Amendment.”
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