ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Dozens of Second Amendment rights activists holstered their handguns and slung unloaded rifles over their shoulders Monday at a gun rights rally in Northern Virginia, while hundreds of like-minded but unarmed counterparts converged in the nation’s capital.
The gun-toting protesters in Virginia were within the bounds of the law but promised to keep the weapons unloaded. Those in Washington chose not to carry any firearms in compliance with the District of Columbia’s strict gun laws, even though many believe the rules are unconstitutional.
Signs reading, “Which part of ‘shall not be infringed’ confuses you?” and bright orange stickers saying, “Guns save lives,” dotted the crowd at the Washington Monument. Across the Potomac River in Alexandria, former Alabama Minutemen leader Mike Vanderboegh told the crowd that armed confrontation should be reserved only for instances of the government threatening people’s lives.
However, he said it might be justified if people face arrest for refusing to buy insurance under the health care reform package recently passed by Congress.
“If I know I’m not going to get a fair trial in federal court … I at least have the right to an unfair gunfight,” Mr. Vanderboegh said.
As the group made its way from a staging area to Gravelly Point Park, gun control advocate Martina Leinz dismissed Mr. Vanderboegh as a bully.
“If they wanted to have dialogue, they don’t need to bring a big weapon with them,” she said of the protesters.
Organizers said it’s the first armed rally in a national park since a law passed allowing people to carry firearms in national parks.
Ken Garvin of Newville, Pa., said he came because believes the government is overreaching. He stressed that the people attending the rally “are not a bunch of crazed thugs … they’re just people.”
In Washington, meanwhile, speakers urged the crowd to vote in this year’s elections for candidates who will support gun rights. Among the supporters was James Everett, 71, a gun owner from Battle Creek, Mich., who said he came to the rally on a bus with nearly 40 others. He echoed the speakers’ message, saying he wants lawmakers to stop infringing on his right to bear arms.
Nafeesa Syeed reported from Washington.