AUSTIN, Texas – Gun advocates — some with rifles slung across shoulders or pistols holstered at the hip — have rallied peacefully in state capitals nationwide against President Barack Obama's sweeping federal gun-control proposals.
Summoned via social media for the "Guns Across America" event, participants gathered Saturday for protests large and small against stricter limits sought on firearms. Only a few dozen turned out in South Dakota and a few hundred in Boise, Idaho. Some 2,000 turned out in New York and large crowds also rallied in Connecticut, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Washington state.
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.
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.
Obama recently announced the gun-control proposals in the wake of a Connecticut elementary school shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six educators last month.
Toth, a first-term Republican lawmaker from The Woodlands outside Houston, has introduced legislation to ban within Texas any future federal limits on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, though such a measure would violate the U.S. Constitution.
In Arizona, Oregon and Utah, some came with holstered handguns or rifles on their backs.
One man in Phoenix dressed as a Revolutionary War Minuteman, completing his outfit with an antique long rifle and a sign reading: "Tyrants Beware - 1776."
"We're out here because this country has some very wise founding fathers and they knew they were being oppressed when they were a British colony," said another man at the Phoenix rally, Eric Cashman. "Had they not had their firearms ... to stand up against the British, we'd still be a British colony."
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.
Back in Texas, Houston resident Robert Thompson attended the rally with his wife and children, ages 12, 5 and 4. Many in the family wore T-shirts reading: "The Second Amendment Protects the First."
"What we are facing now is an assault weapons ban, but if they do this, what will do they do next?" Thompson asked.