In the largest gun-rights rally at the Washington state Capitol in years, demonstrators brought American flags and semi-automatic rifles. The event comes a day after a gun-violence prevention group announced it would seek new regulations on rifles in a fall ballot measure.
OLYMPIA — Draped in American flags, Trump flags and semi-automatic rifles, gun-rights advocates gathered Saturday afternoon in the shadow of the Washington Capitol building.
The March for Our Rights rally drew an estimated 2,500 people according to the Washington State Patrol, making it the largest pro-gun rally in Olympia in years.
And the demonstration — which included more than a dozen speakers, many of them candidates for Legislature or Congress — comes at a key moment in the debate over guns.
Planned for weeks, the rally came a day after gun-safety advocates announced they would seek to put another gun-regulation initiative on the November election ballot.
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The Alliance for Gun Responsibility said the initiative would, among other things, raise the purchase age to 21 for semi-automatic weapons — something many at Saturday’s rally view as a violation of the Constitution.
“When it comes to the Second Amendment, I cannot budge,” said Joseph Brumbles, who stood near the Capitol decked out in a dark suit and carrying a pistol-sized version of an AK-47 rifle.
Brumbles, a 35-year-old convenience-store manager, said he intends to run against U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, a Democrat who represents the Olympia-area 10th Congressional District.
The new initiative was also on the mind of Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn. He told the crowd they must stop the measure from getting enough signatures to make the ballot.
“We’re going to start a campaign that says ‘decline to sign,’ ” said Fortunato. “Don’t sign it.”
But they’ll face steep odds.
Emboldened by the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Democrats and gun-safety advocates have made a renewed push for gun regulations in Washington state.
Tessa Ashley, a 26-year-old college student who helped organize Saturday’s rally, acknowledged it would be difficult to keep the measure off the ballot.
“There’s not much you can do to stop signatures,” she said.
Ashley began organizing the rally after gun legislation started moving through the Legislature this year, she said. For much of Saturday’s rally, she played host.
The crowd cheered as she introduced speakers, or took a break to browse tents set up at the parking lot in front of the Capitol stairs. A gun-parts manufacturer had set up in one; in another was the Olympia chapter of the motorcycle-advocacy organization known as ABATE.
Some demonstrators showed off their support for the president. Others sported the insignia of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, groups the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as extremist anti-government organizations.
The Parkland school shooting — which killed 17 — galvanized a fresh wave of protesters staging high-profile demonstrations in Seattle and elsewhere demanding that more be done to prevent gun violence.
State lawmakers this year approved legislation to ban bump stocks and keep firearms out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers.
But Democrats, who control both the state House and Senate by slim margins, failed to bring an assault-rifle regulation bill up for a vote.
State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, who voted against the bump-stock ban, urged demonstrators to resist efforts to regulate firearms.
Gun-regulation advocates, Walsh told the crowd, “try to make you doubt the rightness of your beliefs.”