Gun enthusiasts and Second Amendment supporters showed up Saturday in large numbers at a gun show in Gonzales and a Second Amendment rally in Baton Rouge to defend the rights of Americans to purchase and bear arms.
Before the rally started on the steps of the State Capitol Annex, Jason Wilbur said he organized the gathering on behalf of Guns Across America, an Internet-based gun advocacy group, because he feels the Constitution and the rights it guarantees are slowly being stripped away.
Thousands of activists gathered peacefully Saturday at state capitals around the U.S. to rally against stricter limits on firearms, after President Barack Obama unveiled last week a sweeping package of federal gun-control proposals.
Wilbur, a former Marine who did two tours of duty in Iraq, said that after he heard about the rallies to defend the Second Amendment, he contacted Guns Across America and learned there were no plans for such a rally in Louisiana.
Wilbur agreed to organize one.
“I want people to see that we’re not these right-wing extremists dressed in our camouflage shooting our guns up in the air,” Wilbur said.
“We are the everyday Americans who put our boots on and go to work at the factories; we’re police, nurses, doctors. We’re not these hillbillies out in the middle of the woods drinking our moonshine and firing our guns in the air,” he added.
During the 90-minute rally, speakers including Rickey Miller, Laura O’Halloran and George Peterson addressed the sometimes-raucous crowd that was not afraid to voice opinions on topics ranging from President Barack Obama and the oft-demonized AR-15 to gun critic Piers Morgan, of CNN.
The crowd applauded more than 30 armed forces veterans attending the rally, along with Miller, who read stories from a National Rifle Association publication about ordinary people who protected themselves from predators by being armed.
Miller said most people cannot always rely on police to be around when most needed, so citizens need to be able to carry guns because “a police officer is too heavy to carry.”
Violent movies and video games are being blamed for causing mass shootings and related violence, Miller said.
He added that he believes, however, Hollywood and the video games industry are getting a pass about their roles in developing violent traits in some of today’s youth.
He asked parents if any of them would tell their children to beat up prostitutes or run over police officers in a stolen car, actions kids are able to do in some of today’s video games.
“Is there anyone who would tell their children to do that?” Miller asked. “Absolutely not. Why are we letting them do it in video games?”
O’Halloran, the next speaker, read a letter that a 7-year-old boy will send to Obama asking the president to let teachers carry guns to protect children in the classrooms.
Peterson, owner of American Freedom Firearms in New Orleans, spoke after O’Halloran, saying he believes the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is essential to preserving freedom.
“Make no mistake, the Second Amendment is not about hunting. The Second Amendment is not about thugs in the street. The Second Amendment is about free people standing up and saying government tyranny will not be tolerated,” Peterson said.
After the rally, Brandon Vulgamore, 28, of Walker, stood among the crowd while holding a hand-made sign and remarked how he was glad he attended the rally, because it affirmed his beliefs.
“If you lose your Second Amendment, what’s to stop them from taking the rest?” he wanted to know.
People looking to add to their stock of firearms or just plain looking made their way to Gonzales on Saturday to attend the Gonzales Gun Show in the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.
Hundreds of people arrived well before the gun show doors opened at 9 a.m. while still more were stuck in traffic on South St. Landry Road and La. 30 near the Tanger Outlet Mall.
Ted Madere, who said he is a competitive rifle shooter, was one of the hundreds who lined up waiting to go inside.
He said he supports background checks, in line with the National Rifle Association’s stand, for buyers and sellers of guns, but does not see how checks would be workable when, for instance, individuals want to sell a gun to a friend or relative.
“You’re going to ask an individual citizen to run a background check on another individual?” he asked.
“I think we’re overkilling the large part of the population that has committed no crime and holding them accountable for the actions of a few,” Madere added. “I’d bet that 99.9 percent of the people in the line have never been in trouble.”
Madere said he sees no need for 30-round rifle magazines, but he will not tell someone else that they cannot have them because he would not want someone to do that to him.
Madere confirmed that he is upset that violent movies and video games get away with sometimes portraying gun owners as “nuts.”
Inside the expo center, vendors arranged table displays of not only guns and knives, but soap and painted turkey feathers, for instance.
Some vendors, such as David Prokop, own shops in the metro Baton Rouge area, while others, such as Paul Angrisano, just wanted to take advantage of the current heavy demand for guns and ammunition to sell some surplus stock.
Both dismissed the notion of a “gun show loophole” that people allegedly use to get around background checks.
Angrisano, a board member of the Louisiana Shooting Association, said the term “gun show loophole” is a misnomer because background checks are, in fact, performed at gun shows.
He said when someone wants to purchase a gun, licensed firearms dealers at gun shows call the FBI and identify the buyer by his or her Social Security number and date of birth.
“If you’re a federally licensed dealer, you have to do a background check,” Angrisano said.
Prokop agreed with Angrisano’s assessment about the loophole issue.
“The gun show loophole is a myth,” he said. “People are surprised they have to pay sales tax and go through a background check” at gun shows.
Prokop said he feels conflicted over the possibility of requiring universal background checks when guns change hands.
Prokop said that as a dealer, he likes the idea of universal checks, but as a father, he does not like the checks because he would not be able to give a gun to his son, for instance.
He said it’s unfortunate that people are using tragedies such as the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., to further their agendas, which he believes are pointing to universal gun registration.
Prokop also wanted to know how people will defend themselves from predators without guns.
“I’ve never known someone to defend their house with fertilizer,” he said.
As for 30-round magazines for semi-automatic rifles, Angrisano pulled some out of a box and said there are millions if not billions of such high-capacity magazines in circulation, to go along with hundreds of billions of rounds of ammunition.
To take high-capacity magazines completely out of circulation would be nearly impossible, he said.
Angrisano said that no matter what the government tries to do, he thinks people in Louisiana will have a hard time following suit.
“Southern Louisiana, or Louisiana in general, is not in danger of going out of personally owned firearms,” Angrisano said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.