DENVER–As many as 1,000 gun-rights advocates rallied at the state capital Saturday as part of a national pushback against federal and state effort to restrict firearms access.
State Rep. Chris Holbert (R-Parker) urged attendees at the Guns Across America rally to contact their state representatives and ask them one question: “How will you vote?”
“I’m going to do the right thing and I’m going to vote ‘no’ on gun control, and I’m not going to compromise on the Second Amendment,” said Holbert. “There are many of us who share that view, that the Second Amendment is a right–it’s not a privilege.”
The grassroots event saw gun-rights supporters in all 50 states gather at their state capital buildings at “high noon” Saturday to send a message to state and federal lawmakers. Volunteer organizers promoted the low-budget rallies through Facebook and other social media.
Crowds ranged from 2,000 in New York and Oregon to about 80 in South Dakota. The Colorado rally drew a crowd estimated at between 600 and 1,000 participants, many of whom carried American flags and signs with messages like, “Self-Defense for Teachers Means No Fun for Psychos.”
The effort comes as President Obama and state Democrats call for restrictions on gun and ammunition purchases in the wake of recent mass shootings, including the Century Aurora theater massacre in July that left 12 dead.
The president unveiled a gun-control package Wednesday that included reinstating bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as universal background checks.
Colorado state Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) is expected to introduce a bill this week that would require background checks for all private gun sales. Gov. John Hickenlooper signaled his support for such a proposal in his State of the State address.
At Saturday’s rally, speakers insisted that such measures would not have prevented mass shootings like those at the Aurora theater or Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. In those cases, the firearms used were either obtained legally or stolen.
“The [executive] orders do nothing to make us safer,” said Robert Wareham, a Colorado attorney specializing in gun rights. “They placate special interest groups to keep them happy and motivated, but [they are] not going to do a single thing to keep us safer.”
Jim Mapes, a Colorado resident who was arrested last year for bringing a firearm to a movie theater despite having a concealed-carry permit, said that at least two mass shooters used 10-round ammunition magazines, which would be permitted under the president’s proposed ban on high-capacity magazines.
“Magazine limits don’t do anything to stop those people when there’s no forceful resistance,” said Mr. Mapes, who saw the case against him dropped. “Magazine bans are worthless.”
Still, gun-control advocates were encouraged by the results of a SurveyUSA poll released Sunday by The Denver Post. The poll showed that support for the rights of gun owners declined since September, although most respondents still said that protecting gun ownership was more important than controlling gun ownership.
Fifty percent said they supported protecting gun ownership, versus 45 percent who said they preferred to control gun ownership. Another 56 percent said the best way to reduce gun violence is by enforcing existing laws, while 35 percent favored passing stricter gun-control laws.
At the same time, most of those polled said they supported enacting federal and state laws on mandating universal background checks, reinstating and strengthening the assault-weapons ban, and restoring the 10-round limit on magazines.
Holbert urged rally-goers to start a discussion with gun-control supporters about details such as “what a magazine is and what a clip isn’t.”
“We need to have a conversation about the facts,” said Holbert. “We’ve got to have a conversation about the difference between fully automatic, military-grade weapons and semi-automatic weapons. We’ve got to have a conversation about what a magazine and a clip is.”
Cars honked in support of demonstrators throughout the 90-minute rally. Recruiters for the National Rifle Association and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners were busy signing up members at the protest, although they noted that they were not involved in the planning.
Guns Across America was reportedly the brainchild of Eric Reed, a pilot from Texas. The Colorado event was organized by Don Dobyns of Pueblo, a veteran and former police officer.
“All I want is my Second Amendment rights. I’ve earned them,” said Dobyns. “Nobody that hasn’t even served has a right to take them away from us.