AUSTIN, Texas — Thousands of gun advocates gathered peacefully Saturday at cities around the United States, including Wilkes-Barre, 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.
A group of about 10 demonstrators, some shouldering rifles, took to Wilkes-Barre's Public Square to protest President Obama's newly unveiled gun violence reduction proposals.
Rally participant Tony Antonello, of Pittston, said Obama's executive action proposals overstep his authority and are endemic of a larger loss of rights taking place in America.
It's supposed to be a right, Antonello said. Just from being born, you have the right to bear arms; but the government has usurped that.
A similar sentiment was echoed at rallies across the country, including at Keystone State events staged in Harrisburg, Scranton and Danville.
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 Obama unveiled a sweeping package of federal gun-control proposals.
The crowd swelled to more than 800 amid balmy temperatures on the steps of the pink-hued 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 Texas 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 (equals) More Crime. Its Facebook page has been liked by more than 17,000 people.
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. Dannel 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.
Capitol rallies also took place in Michigan, Montana, Wisconsin, Missouri and North Carolina, among other states.
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 believed to be the only one there to display a gun. Radio personality Alan LaFrance told the crowd he brought a Glock 19, but he kept it out of sight.
Houston resident Robert Thompson attended the rally with his wife and children, ages 12, 5 and 4. What we are facing now is an assault weapons ban, but if they do this, what will do they do next? Thompson asked.
Times Leader staff writer Matt Hughes contributed to this report.