Gun rights demonstrators rallied at state capitols across the U.S. Saturday to show support for gun ownership. A group called The National Constitutional Coalition of Patriotic Americans created Facebook events for pro-gun gatherings in all 50 states, and its co-founder David Clayton told The Associated Press that organizers secured permits for rallies in 45 states. It has been three weeks since Parkland, Fla. high school students and their allies organized a day of public rallies and marches to push for more gun regulation.
A statement on the National Constitutional Coalition of Patriotic Americans' website announcing the events frames the day of action as a show of support for the Second Amendment and the Constitution. It also alludes to political debates about gun violence and mass shootings:
"Modern thinkers feel the need to strip away our natural born right to self-protection by limiting the available weapons that are at our disposal. They blame mental illness without documentation. They blame everything except the sole responsible party, the person involved in the action."
Another group publicizing the events on social media was Oath Keepers. According to the organization's website, Oath Keepers is "a non-partisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders, who pledge to fulfill the oath all military and police take to 'defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.'" The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the activity of far-right groups in the U.S., calls Oath Keepers "one of the largest radical anti-government groups in the U.S. today."
Clayton told The Chicago Tribune that though carrying unloaded guns, when legal, was encouraged, the marches were meant to be nonviolent:
"This is a very peaceful approach to a show of force," Clayton said. "What that means is we're not going to go there looking for a fight. We're saying, 'Look at all the people gathered here. We have a voice too.' "
Associated Press reporters counted about 100 people at the event in Cheyenne, Wyo., more than 400 at the event in Dover, Del. and more than 135 people at the event in Atlanta, Ga. Organizers of the event in Augusta, Maine told the AP about 800 people showed up there.
Corey Stewart, a Republican who is now making his second run for Senate in Virginia, spoke at the event in Richmond, Va. He told NPR that though he hasn't heard an official count, he estimates that about 200 people were in attendance. He says he believes such an event is important in the current political moment because "the left is trying very hard to limit the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans."
Stewart says he emphasized arms as a tool for public safety in his speech Saturday. "The only way that we're going to prevent school shootings is by arming retired police, veterans and even teachers," he said. "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."