Pro- and anti-gun control advocates across the country demonstrated their First and Second Amendment rights Saturday to assemble peaceably, protest freely and display proudly the same type of weapon, among others, that killed 26 people last month in Newtown, Conn.
Gun enthusiasts waited 45 minutes and paid $10 ($3 for children) to enter a packed-to-the-rafters gun show at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.
Meanwhile, in Washington thousands of placard-waving protesters marched down Constitution Avenue Saturday, demanding “Gun Control Now” and “Stop NRA.”
Back in Georgia, a couple of sheriffs joined officials vowing to ignore any federal attempt to limit gun ownership.
Recent calls by President Barack Obama and other elected officials to outlaw military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines made guns a hot issue Saturday.
“A lot of people think their gun rights will be taken away,” said Jake Caminsky of Buford, who owns two rifles, two handguns and was looking for another pistol at the Lawrenceville gun show. New laws “still won’t take illegal guns off the street. They just might make it harder to get them legally,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced legislation last week to ban 150 types of assault weapons, including the Bushmaster assault rifle used in the Newtown massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The most sweeping gun control bill in 20 years also would outlaw ammo clips that hold more than 10 rounds.
Thousands of anti-gun protesters from Newtown, New York, Philadelphia and Seattle echoed Feinstein’s and Obama’s plea for an assault-weapons ban. They were joined by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and actress Kathleen Turner in front of the Capitol for the March on Washington for Gun Control.
“The Second Amendment gives us the right to own guns, but it’s not the right to own any gun,” said Molly Smith, co-organizer of the rally. “These are assault weapons, made for killing people.”
A growing number of Georgia sheriffs have publicly declared their opposition to an assault-weapons ban and vowed to ignore any federal directive to enforce a ban. Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, in a Jan. 14 letter to U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said he “will not support, aid, enforce, nor condone, any effort or legislation that will infringe upon the right of any law abiding citizen’s right to bear firearms.”
Sills, president of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, was joined Saturday by Douglas County Sheriff Phil Miller, who vowed via Facebook to “make sure that our rights as citizens are not violated by the Federal Government or our State Government.”
Sheriffs in Cherokee, Gilmer and Oconee counties had earlier pledged to ignore any federal gun bans.
First Amendment rights, which allow free, even incendiary speech, were fully on display at the Lawrenceville gun show, with barbs aimed at Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pushed an assault-weapons ban through his Legislature last week.
Bruce Greenfield, recruiting director for GeorgiaCarry.org, a gun rights group, said the national grief evinced by Sandy Hook makes for bad legislation.
“Until we address other issues, largely mental health, but also morality, we’ll never fix the problem,” said Greenfield whose group likely will push Georgia legislators this year to allow churchgoers and college kids to carry weapons. “The reality is this: If I can’t get a gun, a Molotov cocktail will do just as well.”
However, George Mazzant, whose father owns On the Square Guns in McDonough — and who did brisk business Saturday selling pistols, shotguns and ammo at the gun show — said he isn’t opposed to stricter background checks or the abolishment of online sales, actions proposed by Washington officials.
Mazzant pointed to a man nearby with a shotgun draped over his shoulder — a gun that may have been bought without a background check from an unregistered gun dealer.
“That guy could be a felon,” Mazzant said. “He shouldn’t be allowed to do that.”
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The Associated Press contributed to this article.