One banner best expressed the sentiment of many at a pro-Second Amendment rally Saturday who fear their constitutional right to bear arms is threatened by proposed federal legislation: “Don’t tread on me.”
The rally at Augusta Common drew more than 100 people, many of whom came with weapons, ranging from an 1863 Springfield rifle to a crossbow to an AR-15 semiautomatic.
The prevailing theme among those attending and speaking was that President Obama’s plan to, among other things, reinstate a ban on assault weapons and limit rounds in an ammunition magazine, represents another unwanted – and unnecessary – government intrusion.
“It’s none of their business why they need it or they don’t need it,” Neil Weems, a Harlem resident, said when asked why someone needs a high-capacity magazine. “The government has no right to ask that question. We are private citizens and have rights under the amendment. … It’s never justified for the government to require citizens to do things they have no business in. It’s just overextension of government.”
Tom Taber, a friend of Weems, said he takes issue with what he considers a sometimes unfair media portrayal of people who believe strongly in the Second Amendment and are law-abiding gun owners.
“I think there’s a purposeful effort by the administration and the press, the so-called mainstream media, to portray people like me – and I have a few guns – as some kind of a wild-eyed gun nut who is anti-government to the extent that I’m going to barricade myself in my house and hold off any government official that might try to talk to me, and that’s not the case,” said Tabor, an Augusta resident and Vietnam War veteran. “However, there is that aspect that can’t be forgotten and I again think that’s why the original Second Amendment was written: to protect the citizenry from a tyrannical government.”
Event organizers told attendees to bring weapons they are legally able to carry under Georgia law if they so wanted. Weems and Taber didn’t have a weapon on them, but Erik Jensen came with his Ruger Mini-14 scout rifle with a 30-round clip strapped across his back and a Sig Sauer P250 pistol on his hip, both semi-automatics.
“I want to show my support for these type of guns that are out here,” said Jensen, a Waynesboro resident and Army veteran. He said the guns were not loaded because he didn’t want any accidental discharge.
Marjorie LaPan did come loaded, carrying a Remington 12-gauge shotgun that can hold eight rounds. LaPan, who co-owns FastSigns on Washington Road with her husband, said they keep the weapon at the store for protection because of break-ins in the area around their business.
She said she didn’t want to see the Second Amendment infringed on, but she does support background checks to restrict guns from certain people, such as those with mental illness.
“I think we should be able to keep whatever kind of arms that we want,” LaPan said, adding that she has been a gun owner for more than a year.
As she spoke, Marie Vargas interrupted to question LaPan’s objection to gun control. Vargas said a nephew and his friend had been killed in Chicago about six months ago, and she believes something should be done to get guns off the streets.
“I’m not saying we should give up the rights to bear arms, but there’s got to be some kind of control,” Vargas said.
LaPan said she agreed that criminals should not have weapons. When Vargas brought up “crazy kids” killing students in schools, LaPan responded, “If there were people that were armed at the schools, they would take care of that.”
Vargas replied, “That’s what bothers me. I believe in the right to own arms, but too many arms are running the streets.”
After walking away from the nearly 10-minute conversation, Vargas said she mistakenly thought the rally was going to be about gun control.
“I don’t think I belong here,” she said.