AUSTIN, Texas – Thousands of gun advocates gathered peacefully Saturday in state capitals to rally against stricter limits on firearms, with demonstrators in some places carrying rifles and pistols while those elsewhere settled for waving hand-scrawled signs or screaming themselves hoarse.
The size of crowds varied – from dozens of people in South Dakota to 2,000 in New York. Large crowds also turned out in Connecticut, Tennessee and Texas. Some demonstrators in Phoenix; Salem, Ore.; Olympia, Wash.; and Salt Lake City, Utah, came with holstered handguns or rifles on their backs. At the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, attendees gave a special round of applause for "the ladies that are packin’."
Dozens of gun rights advocates rallied in downtown Las Vegas along Las Vegas Boulevard just north of the Stratosphere around noon Saturday.
Las Vegas police said there were no incidents and that there was only one gun control advocate who showed up to counter them. They carried pro-gun signs made from cardboard. Some of them toted rifles over their backs. Others carried the American flag.
Activists promoted the "Guns Across America" rallies primarily through social media. They were being held just after President Barack Obama unveiled a package of federal gun control proposals.
The crowd swelled to more than 800 on the steps of the Capitol in Austin, where speakers took the microphone under a giant Texas flag with "Independent" stamped across it. Homemade placards read "An Armed Society is a Polite Society," "The Second Amendment Comes from God" and "Hey King O., I’m keeping my guns and my religion."
"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.
Toth, a first-term Republican lawmaker from The Woodlands outside Houston, has introduced legislation banning within Texas any future federal limits on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, though such a measure would violate the U.S. Constitution.
GUN SHOW SHOOTINGS
Also Saturday, accidental shootings at gun shows in North Carolina, Indiana and Ohio left five people injured.
At the Dixie Gun and Knife Show in Raleigh, N.C., a 12-gauge shotgun discharged as its owner unzipped its case for a law enforcement officer to check at a security entrance, injuring three people, state Agriculture Department spokesman Brian Long said.
The shotgun’s owner, 36-year-old Gary Lynn Wilson, took the weapon to the show to find a private buyer, Long said.
In Indianapolis, police said a 54-year-old man was injured when he accidentally shot himself. Emory Cozee was loading his .45-caliber semi-automatic when he shot himself in the hand as he was leaving the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife show at the state fairgrounds, state police said. Loaded personal weapons aren’t allowed inside the show.
And in Ohio, a gun dealer in Medina was checking out a semi-automatic handgun he had bought when he accidentally pulled the trigger, injuring his friend, police said. The gun’s magazine had been removed from the firearm, but one round remained in the chamber, police said.
Saturday’s nationwide rallies were organized by Eric Reed, an airline captain from the Houston area who in November started a group called "More Gun Control = More Crime." Its Facebook page has been "liked" by more than 17,000 people.
Texas law allows concealed handgun license-holders to carry firearms anywhere, but Reed said rally-goers shouldn’t expose their weapons: "I don’t want anyone to get arrested."
A man who identified himself only as "Texas Mob Father" carried a camouflaged assault rifle strapped to his back during the Austin rally, but he was thought to be the only one to display a gun. Radio personality Alan LaFrance told the crowd he brought a Glock 19, but he kept it out of sight.
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.
Republican Assemblyman Steven McLaughlin said the new law was "abuse of power" by the governor. Some in the crowd carried "Impeach Cuomo" signs. Protester Robert Candea called the restrictions "an outrage against humanity."
In Connecticut, where task forces created by the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Dan 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.
TRADITION AND SLIPPERY SLOPES
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.
William Lawson drove more than four hours from Wichita Falls and held up a sign reading "Modern Musket" over the image of an assault rifle and the words, "An American Tradition since 1776."
"I’m not some wild-eyed person who wants to fight in the streets," Lawson said. "This is a country of laws. But I want to protect our Constitution."
Review-Journal writer Tom Ragan contributed to this report.