assault rifle
Who wants guns at the Republican National Convention? This is the weapon used to illustrate a new petition calling for open carry at the GOP confab. Screen shot

Guns may be allowed at American universities and even in churches, but the US Secret Service has declared they will be prohibited at a gathering of gun supporters: The Republican National Convention.

The Secret Service made the announcement as the number of signatures started to rise on a petition calling for guns to be allowed at the July convention in Cleveland. Ohio is an "open carry" state, meaning people can pack loaded guns on their hips and in their hands. But firearms for all but law enforcement are currently prohibited in the Cleveland arena where the convention is being held.

"With this irresponsible and hypocritical act of selecting a 'gun-free zone' for the convention, the RNC has placed its members, delegates, candidates and all US citizens in grave danger," the petition states. But the arena will remain a gun free zone, say the Feds, despite the popular petition.

Federal law "provides the Secret Service authority to preclude firearms from entering sites visited by our protectees, including those located in open-carry states," Secret Service spokesman Robert Hoback said in a statement. "Only authorized law enforcement personnel working in conjunction with the Secret Service for a particular event may carry a firearm inside of the protected site."

The anonymous gun petition, featuring a picture of an automatic assault rifle and posted by the Americans for Responsible Open Carry (later renamed the Hyperationalist) — which cannot be located — quickly gathered an impressive 48,000 signatures by 28 March. It's unclear if the action was launched by a legitimate pro-gun group, or an anti-GOP organisation making a point that guns are too dangerous for the Republicans who largely oppose stricter firearm laws.

All three of the Republican presidential candidates, even Ohio Gov. John Kasich, have dodged taking a stand on the petition, saying the finally determination will be up to the Secret Service. But Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have previously denounced "gun-free" zones.

"If you're a lunatic, ain't nothing better than having a bunch of targets you know that are going to be unarmed," said Cruz early in his campaign. Soon afterward Trump echoed that sentiment, saying he would end "gun-free zones" at schools and on military bases on his first day as president. "You know what a gun-free zone is to sickos? That's bait!" he said early this year.

The Secret Service took similar action prohibiting guns at a Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, in 2012, against the apparent wishes of local authorities.

The petition calls on the candidates, the National Rifle Association, the Republican National Committee, and the convention center to do what they can to arrange to allow convention participants to openly carry firearms. It says the city of Cleveland is dangerous and the convention could be the target of Isis terrorists.

The petition warns: "Without the right to protect themselves," those participating in the convention "will be sitting ducks, utterly helpless against evil-doers, criminals or others who wish to threaten the American way of life."