OLYMPIA — Mike Bessette’s attire reflected the mood at Saturday’s rally for gun rights on the grounds of the state Capitol.
The Gig Harbor man wore a shirt emblazoned with stars and stripes. On his back hung a sign with the words “Law-abiding gun owner” and a bull’s-eye target.
“It’s not the law-abiding citizens that are the problem, but we’re the ones being targeted,” Bessette explained.
Part of a nationwide series of rallies, the Washington State Guns Across America event drew an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 1,000 people opposed to new restrictions on gun ownership. Dozens waved American flags. Many wore pistols on their hips or carried semiautomatic rifles slung over their shoulders.
The rally came just days after President Obama announced proposals to curb gun violence, including a requirement for background checks on all gun sales and a ban on assault weapons. The administration’s plan, and tough new gun laws adopted last week in New York, were inspired by the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 first-graders and six staffers dead.
The debate over gun restrictions is poised to play out in the Washington state Legislature as well. Democratic leaders say they will push for a ban on assault weapons and other measures, and newly elected Gov. Jay Inslee has signaled his support.
But some Republican lawmakers propose arming teachers as the best way to protect students, a view shared by the National Rifle Association.
Yakima-area State Representative David Taylor drew loud cheers Saturday when he told the crowd he and other pro-gun lawmakers intend to introduce a bill to exempt Washington from any national restrictions enacted by Congress.
The keynote speaker for the event was Shahram Hadian, a native of Iran who emigrated as a child and is now a Christian pastor in Snohomish County. He expressed the fears of many gun owners who see any infringement on the Second Amendment right to bear arms as a sign of government run amok.
“Tyranny is now at our doorstep,” said Hadian, who ran for governor as a Republican in 2012. “It is now in our faces.”
Franklin County Republican Clint Didier, who ran for Patty Murray’s U.S. Senate seat in 2010, but lost in the primary to Dino Rossi, went even further, urging people to stockpile food, weapons, ammunition and medical supplies. “It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” he said.
Didier’s mention of President Obama evoked a chorus of “boos,” except when he declared, “Barack Obama is not my president.”
Irene and Robert Slaughter traveled from Moses Lake for the rally. Both are gun owners — she for protection, he for hunting and for shooting rattlesnakes. Robert Slaughter pointed to the quick-draw holster and .22-Ruger pistol on his hip. Under New York’s new rules, the gun would be illegal because it holds ten rounds, more than the seven that are allowed.
“I’m a third-generation owner of guns that haven’t hurt anyone,” he said.
More than 200 religious leaders from across the state signed a statement objecting to the timing of Saturday’s rally, on the weekend marking the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“This weekend is the time in which we remember the legacy of the apostle of nonviolence,” said the Rev. Dr. Sandy Brown, pastor at Seattle’s First United Methodist Church. “To be celebrating guns at a time in which we are honoring someone who was killed by a gun just seems to be aggressively insensitive.”