Protesters Bear Rifles, Handguns at Va. Rally

Unidentified, armed protesters from southern California join a rally for support of the Second Amendment during the "Restore the Constitution" rally at Fort Hunt Park in Alexandria, Va. on Monday, April 19, 2010. AP Photo/Toby Jorrin

Dozens of Second Amendment rights activists holstered their handguns and slung unloaded rifles over their shoulders Monday at a gun rights rally in northern Virginia, while hundreds of like-minded but unarmed counterparts converged in the nation's capital.

The gun-toting protesters in Virginia were within the bounds of the law but promised to keep the weapons unloaded. Those in Washington, D.C., chose not to carry any firearms in compliance with the district's strict gun laws, even though many believe the rules are unconstitutional.

Signs reading "Which part of 'shall not be infringed' confuses you?" and bright orange stickers saying "Guns save lives" dotted the crowd at the Washington Monument. Across the Potomac River in Alexandria, former Alabama Minutemen leader Mike Vanderboegh told the crowd armed confrontation should be reserved only for instances of the government threatening people's lives.

However, he said it might be justified if people face arrest for refusing to buy insurance under the health care reform package recently passed by Congress.

"If I know I'm not going to get a fair trial in federal court ... I at least have the right to an unfair gunfight," Vanderboegh said.

As the group made its way from a staging area to Gravelly Point Park, gun control advocate Martina Leinz dismissed Vanderboegh as a bully.

"If they wanted to have dialogue, they don't need to bring a big weapon with them," she said of the protesters.

About 75 protesters were at Gravelly Point by noon, and there were nearly as many members of the media there.

Organizers said it's the first armed rally in a national park since a law passed allowing people to carry firearms in national parks. Organizer Daniel Almond said he wanted to hold the rally in a place where "we can exercise our rights." He pointed in the direction of Washington and said, "Over there the constitution is being violated and in that we can no bear arms."

Almond said April 19 was chosen because it represents the anniversary of the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord. He said it was not meant to commemorate the Oklahoma City bombing, which took place on April 19, 1995.

Ken Garvin of Newville, Pa., said he came because he believes the government is overreaching. He stressed that the people attending the rally "are not a bunch of crazed thugs ... they're just people."

In Washington, meanwhile, speakers urged the crowd to vote in this year's elections for candidates who will support gun rights. Among the supporters was James Everett, 71, a gun owner from Battle Creek, Mich., who said he came to the rally on a bus with nearly 40 others.

"I believe it's a right. But sometimes you have to defend our rights with actions," Everett said. He said he wants to "let the people who represent us know that I don't want them to tread on my right to bear arms. A lot of people died for that right."

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia told the crowd that Second Amendment rights have been eroded over the years and that it's time to "take this government back from the socialists."

"We have to have a revolution — a revolution at the ballot box this November," he said. "You're going to be the agent of that change."
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