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Rally brings gun rights advocates to Pennsylvania Capitol

September 29, 2020 GMT
People rally for gun rights on the rainy steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Harrisburg, Pa. The annual Rally to Protect Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms provided an update on the gun lobby's legislative efforts and opposition, and gave attendees an opportunity to target Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and other political opponents. (AP Photo/Mark Scolforo)
People rally for gun rights on the rainy steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Harrisburg, Pa. The annual Rally to Protect Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms provided an update on the gun lobby's legislative efforts and opposition, and gave attendees an opportunity to target Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and other political opponents. (AP Photo/Mark Scolforo)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A smaller than usual crowd of a few hundred people rallied for gun rights on the steps of Pennsylvania’s Capitol on Tuesday, an annual event that also was attended by a few dozen state lawmakers.

The Rally to Protect Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms constituted a pep rally, provided an update on the gun lobby’s legislative efforts and opposition, and gave those present an opportunity to target Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and other political opponents.

“Gov. Wolf needs to read the Pennsylvania Constitution again,” said state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, a Clinton County Republican. “Every right that has been given to us hinges on the Second Amendment.”

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Organizers said rainy weather and the pandemic may have kept down attendance, and there were none of the busloads that have brought much larger crowds in other years. Most of those in the crowd and a majority of state lawmakers did not wear masks.

Mark Opdycke, a retired manufacturing worker wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, said he drove from his home in Tatamy to show lawmakers that there is support for the Second Amendment.

Opdycke said he keeps guns primarily for “self-defense against an evil government that we haven’t had to use yet.”

Rep. Harry Readshaw of Allegheny County, one of the few Democratic lawmakers at the event, urged the crowd not to give up the effort.

“You have to be aware of who you’re electing, simply because the newer people don’t seem to understand the Constitution, they don’t seem to understand the Second Amendment, and they won’t be for you,” said Readshaw, who is retiring at the end of the year after 13 terms in the House.

Legislative proposals to restrict or regulate firearms usually stall in the Republican-majority General Assembly. When lawmakers and Wolf approved a law in October 2018 to require those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence or subject to protective orders to give up their guns within 24 hours, it was the first anti-violence legislation in the state to deal directly with guns in more than a decade.

“I see some of the bills that try to get through the Legislature and it really fires me up sometimes,” said Steve Anthony of Saxonburg, who attended the rally with a 9 mm handgun and a yellow flag bearing an image of a rifle and the words, “Yinz Can’t Take It.” “I’m afraid of other restrictions being put forth.”

Dimitrius Perez, an unemployed resident of West Chester, had an AR-15 style rifle slung over his shoulder.

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“Here, so far, nothing but good” responses to his open carry, Perez said. “Everywhere else? Terrible.”

Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, who chairs a committee that handles many gun-related proposals, vowed to block efforts to pass “red flag” gun seizure bills, gun registration legislation or taxes or registration for ammunition.

Adam Garber, executive director of Cease Fire PA, which advocates to reduce the harm done by firearms, said gun sales have increased sharply during the pandemic. He said about 1,600 people have been killed by guns in Pennsylvania in the past year.

“But instead of offering common sense solutions to suicide, domestic violence and gun homicides, some legislators and gun rights advocates continue to point towards a phantom threat to people’s right to bear arms,” Garber said. “There is no risk to people’s right to bear arms, just to residents’ lives because of the lack of common sense protections.”