When used in the context of protests, certain types of less lethal weapons, like tear gas, rubber bullets, and sonic weapons, are indiscriminate by their very nature. These weapons should never be used in the context of First Amendment assemblies.
Tear Gas and Chemical Irritants
Initiatives in at least 12 municipalities, 10 states, and the federal government.
The 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1994 Chemical Weapons Convention prohibit the use of agents like tear gas in warfare, yet they remain a tool for many US law enforcement agencies. When deployed via large-scale canisters or through grenades, tear gas and other chemical irritants such as pepper spray can do indiscriminate harm, and as such are an inappropriate response to protests.
Complete Prohibition on Law Enforcement’s Use of Chemical Irritants
Prohibiting Use of Chemical Irritants at Protests
Some initiatives prohibit the use of chemical irritants such as tear gas at First Amendment assemblies. In this context, it is particularly important to have strict rules about when law enforcement may disperse a First Amendment assembly and the steps they must take to ensure the protection of protesters’ rights.
- State: Washington DC (B23-0825 passed Council); Oregon (HB 4208 enacted); Colorado (SB 20-217 enacted); Massachusetts (S 2820 passed senate); Minnesota (HF 88); California (AB 66); Michigan (HB 5925); Georgia (HB 1206).
- Municipal: Iowa City, IA (20-159 passed council); Olympia, OR (resolution passed council); Boston, MA (0811); Portland, OR (order of mayor); Columbus, OH (directive of the mayor); Richmond, VA (proposed in Council).
Rubber Bullets and “Less Lethal” Projectiles
Initiatives in at least 4 municipalities, 5 states, and the federal government.
Rubber bullets and other “less lethal” projectiles can cause serious physical and psychological harm. They should never be used to control crowds at a demonstration.
Complete Prohibition on Kinetic Energy Projectiles
- Federal: Sen.’s Markey and Sanders have introduced S 4114.
- State: New York (S8516); Minnesota (HF 86); Massachusetts (HD 5218 and S 2968).
- Municipal: Seattle, WA (CB 119805 passed Council)
Prohibiting Use of Kinetic Energy Projectiles at Protests
Some initiatives prohibit the use of kinetic energy projectiles, such as rubber bullets, at First Amendment assemblies. In this context, it is particularly important to have strict rules about when law enforcement may disperse a First Amendment assembly and the steps they must take to ensure the protection of protesters’ rights.
Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs), or “sound cannons,” can be used as a sonic weapon by emitting loud and painful levels of noise that can cause long-term hearing loss. Human rights advocates have called for a suspension on their use to police crowds until their effects are better studied.
- The City Council of Seattle, WA, prohibited the police’s use of acoustic weapons against crowds (CB 119805).
- The Mayor of Portland, OR, directed police to only use LRADs as a communication device and to not use their “sonic warning tone” against crowds.