TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Organizers of a small-town Kansas parade have told Republican Kris Kobach that he must remove a replica machine gun from the back of a Jeep that's become a key part of his campaign for governor and emblematic of his support for gun rights.
An attorney for the organizing committee for Iola's Farm City Days said it was in talks Friday with Kobach's campaign to find a compromise. But Kobach said that he believes the organizers can't prevent him from using the Jeep with the gun in the parade scheduled for Saturday without violating his free speech rights.
Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, 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." He quickly made it a symbol of his defiance of liberal criticism and his support for gun-ownership rights protected by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
But Daniel Schowengerdt, attorney for the Iola parade's organizing committee, said its members felt the replica gun's "wartime message" clashed with the event's message of bringing farms and cities together. Iola, with about 5,700 residents, is about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City.
Schowengerdt said the organizers had no problem with the Jeep, which is decorated with U.S. flag designs and has a bobble-head of President Donald Trump on its hood — only with the replica machine gun. He said that under past U.S. Supreme Court decisions, private parade organizers have a right to choose the content of their events.
"They are pro-Second Amendment," he said of the organizers. "This is not a leftist organization. In fact, the vast majority of the people on the committee are gun-owning Republicans."
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.
"They felt and feel that a mounted, replica, .50-caliber machine gun does not fit with their message," Schowengerdt said. "The Jeep is free to be there."
Virginia Crossland Macha, a local GOP activist who backs Kobach, said she was upset enough by the organizing committee's decision that she resigned as its president; she was not present for its vote. She said Farm City Days is non-partisan and staffed by volunteers and has now been drawn into "a mess" that could hurt the event.
"I just find it kind of crazy," she said.
Iola 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 Republican primary in August with nearly 43 percent of the vote.
Schowengerdt said the decision was made in mid-September. Kobach said he learned of the decision about a week ago, some days after parade organizers told his staff of their decision. He 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."