AUSTIN, Texas — Thousands of gun advocates gathered peacefully Saturday at state capitals around the U.S. to rally against stricter limits on firearms, with demonstrators carrying rifles and pistols in some places while those elsewhere settled for waving hand-scrawled signs or screaming themselves hoarse.
The size of crowds at each location 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 and Salem, Ore., 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’.”
Activists promoted the “Guns Across America” rallies primarily through social media. They were being held just after President Obama unveiled a package of federal gun-control proposals.
The crowd swelled to more than 800 amid balmy temperatures 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.”
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“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.
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 = More Crime.”
At the New York state Capitol in Albany, about 2,000 people turned out and 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.
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.
Capitol rallies also took place in Michigan, Montana, Wisconsin, Missouri and North Carolina, 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 they do next?” Thompson asked.
Though the rallies were peaceful, guns’ dangers were on display at three gun shows Saturday. Three people were accidentally shot at the Dixie Gun and Knife Show at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C., when a 12-gauge shotgun discharged while its owner unzipped its case for a security check at the entrance. Two people were taken to the hospital.
In Indianapolis, a man accidentally shot himself while leaving the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife show at the state fairgrounds. Indiana State Police say Emory Cozee, 54, was loading his .45-caliber semiautomatic when he shot himself in the hand. He was taken to the hospital.
In Medina, Ohio, authorities say a gun dealer was checking a semiautomatic handgun he’d bought when he accidentally pulled the trigger, and the bullet hit the floor and bounced and struck a friend. A police official said the friend, a man, was hospitalized with wounds in his arm and leg.