Firearms owners, advocacy groups rally against tougher gun control measures during 'appreciation day'

Catherine Herridge reports from Warrenton, VA


Firearms owners and their advocacy groups headed to gun shops, shooting ranges other places Saturday as part of "Gun Appreciation Day."

Organizers encouraged gun-rights supporters to "send a message" to President Obama two days before his second inauguration by "lining up around the block" at gun shops, ranges and shows with a copy of the Constitution, U.S. flags and a "Hands off my Guns" signs.

Only a few dozen turned out in South Dakota and a few hundred in Boise, Idaho. But some 2,000 turned out in New York and large crowds also rallied in Connecticut, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington state.

"We're just supporting the second amendment," said John Kenney, who went to Clark Brothers Guns, in Warrenton, Va., where the parking lot was full for much of the day. 

Kenny said he visited the shop-shooting range in part to try to reverse recent efforts to make gun ownership "look ugly," instead showing Americans owning a firearm is "a fabulous thing."

The president on Wednesday announced his gun-control plan that includes enacting a new and stronger assault-weapons ban, limiting magazines to 10 rounds and extending mental health treatment to young Americans. His plan follows the Dec. 14 shootings inside a Connecticut elementary school in which 20 first-graders and six adults were killed.

About 800 people gathered for the "Guns Across America" event in Austin, Texas, as speakers took to the microphone under a giant Texas flag stamped with one word: "Independent."

"The thing that so angers me, and I think so angers you, is that this president is using children as a human shield to advance a very liberal agenda that will do nothing to protect them," said state Rep. Steve Toth, referencing last month's elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

In Maryland, opponents of gun-control legislation held a demonstration Saturday next to the Maryland State House, in Annapolis.

Rallies at statehouses nationwide were organized by Eric Reed, an airline captain from the Houston area who in November started a group called "More Gun Control (equals) More Crime." Its Facebook page has been "liked" by more than 17,000 people.

At the New York state Capitol in Albany, about 2,000 people turned out for a chilly rally, where they chanted "We the People," ''USA," and "Freedom." Many carried American flags and "Don't Tread On Me" banners. The event took place four days after Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the nation's toughest assault weapon and magazine restrictions.

In Connecticut, where task forces created by the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy are considering changes to gun laws, police said about 1,000 people showed up on the Capitol grounds. One demonstrator at the rally in Maine, Joe Getchell of Pittsfield, said every law-abiding citizen has a right to bear arms.

In Minnesota, where more than 500 people showed up at the Capitol in St. Paul, Republican state Rep. Tony Cornish said he would push to allow teachers to carry guns in school without a principal or superintendent's approval and to allow 21-year-olds to carry guns on college campuses.

Capitol rallies also took place in Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont and Wisconsin, among other states.

Efforts by Democrats and some Republicans to pass gun-control legislation in Congress begin in earnest when lawmakers return to Washington after the inauguration.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has said after the fatal shootings in Newtown that she would introduce legislation calling for a 10-year ban on assault weapons, like the one she got Congress to pass in 1994.

Supporters of more gun-control legislation face strong opposition from gun-rights advocacy groups, particularly the National Rifle Association.

Larry Ward -- who led the appreciation-day effort Saturday and is president of the Republican consulting firm Political Media Inc. -- said earlier this month that the event is being supported with an online, mailing and media campaign over the next two weeks that is expected to reach 50 million people.

The coalition behind the gun appreciation day includes the Second Amendment Foundation, Special Operations Speaks, Revolution PAC and the Conservative Action Fund.

The rallies came on a day in which accidental shootings at gun shows in North Carolina, Indiana and Ohio left five people hurt. The wounded included two bystanders hit by shotgun pellets after a 12-gauge shotgun discharged at a show in Raleigh, N.C., as the owner unzipped its case for a law officer to check at a security entrance, authorities said. A retired deputy there also suffered a slight hand injury.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.