FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Gun rights supporters unabashedly toted weapons at a rally outside Kentucky's Capitol on Saturday in a show of political muscle aimed at sending a message to policymakers to protect the Second Amendment.
Speakers stressed the importance of guns for self-defense, drawing cheers from about 300 people at the rally where American flags were plentiful.
Many in the crowd had weapons holstered at their sides or strapped to their backs while attending the Kentucky Second Amendment March. The event is part of a national, grass-roots campaign culminating with a planned rally next month in Washington.
Rex Bartley, state coordinator for the march, said bearing arms is a "God-given right," and said gun rights supporters are a "silent majority" who need to speak out.
Bartley said gun ownership is the "one right that protects all others," and said it's invaluable for self-protection.
"A well-trained man or woman with a firearm in their hand, when they encounter a criminal, it makes a difference between going home to your family ... or going to the morgue," he said.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul said he would never waiver in his support of the Second Amendment, pledging that if elected he would oppose any federal regulation of firearms.
Paul called guns a "great defense," telling the crowd that "had we had one armed teacher or student at Virginia Tech, we might not have had a massacre." He was referring to the 2007 shooting rampage that left 33 people dead, including the student gunman.
Nikki Goeser, whose husband was fatally gunned down at a Tennessee restaurant in 2009, told the crowd that police have a difficult job and cannot be everywhere. "No one can take care of you like you can," Goeser said.
She urged people to be equipped to defend themselves if ever confronted by an assailant.
"If you don't have a handgun carry permit, get one," said Goeser, of Nashville, Tenn. "If you don't have a firearm for self-defense, get one."
In the crowd, Rob Lotz III of Georgetown said he worries about efforts to chip away at the Second Amendment. He said the rally sent a strong message to politicians to preserve gun rights.
Eric Nichols of Berea said he values the Second Amendment, even though he's never owned or fired a gun. The closest he's come is firing a paintball gun.
"Every person should have the right to defend themselves," he said. "We don't have one police officer for every citizen in this country."
In Kentucky, the gun rights lobby has been a powerful force in a state where hunting is a cherished tradition.
Recently, Kentucky House leaders balked at a proposed rule change that would have barred visitors from carrying guns in the Capitol. Some House lawmakers pressed for such a ban after a man wore a holstered gun into the House chamber and sat through an afternoon session.