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Gun-rights advocates gather in Va. and D.C. to celebrate 'historic moment'

By Fredrick Kunkle and Ann Gerhart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 20, 2010; A03

In Virginia, they carried handguns on their hips and rifles slung over their backs.

In the nation's capital, where possession of guns is strictly regulated, they came carrying only signs and handbills, which one man had thrust into an empty holster.

The protest by hundreds of gun-rights advocates, billed as a national march in support of the Second Amendment, drew small but fervent groups to the Washington area. As many as 2,000 people gathered in the shadow of the Washington Monument, and about 50 at Gravelly Point and Fort Hunt parks in Virginia.

As "My Country 'Tis of Thee" played over a loudspeaker, Jason Brown, 34, a bank security guard from Vancouver, Wash., said he traveled to the nation's capital for the first time because no other cause is as important to him as defending the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

"Personally, I am for the pre-1934 National Firearms Act and I want to go back to that system we had then," said Brown, holding a flag with the image of a rifle that read, "Come and Take It."

Among the speakers were Suzanna Gratia Hupp, whose parents were killed in the 1991 mass shooting at a Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Tex., and Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.).

The Virginia gathering was the first armed rally in a national park since President Obama signed a law last year allowing people to carry weapons into the parks.

"This is a political event and a historic moment," said Bob Wright, a former Minuteman from New Mexico who gathered with others at Gravelly Point.

The rallies come at a time when the trend appears to be toward normalizing the carrying of firearms in public. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court's 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller recognized an individual's constitutional right to possess firearms, an increasing number of states had allowed citizens to carry guns openly or conceal them on their person.

Last year, 24 states loosened restrictions in firearms laws, and Iowa and Arizona passed laws this year easing restrictions on gun possession. Starbucks recently announced that it would heed applicable federal state and local laws on gun possession, opening the door to allowing people to order a mochaccino with a Glock on their hip.

Gun-control groups have pushed back. This weekend, gun-control advocates coordinated protests at Starbucks in Blacksburg, Va., and Denver to coincide with anniversaries of the Virginia Tech and Columbine shootings. Abby Spangler, founder of Virginia-based Protest Easy Guns, said about 30 people attended each demonstration.

A group that includes victims of the Virginia Tech massacre and their families said Monday that Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) met privately with them and gave his commitment to support a federal law requiring background checks for firearms buyers at gun shows.

"Basically, what's going on in this country is the normalization of guns everywhere and anywhere," Spangler said. "We are fighting that on every front."

Webb's office released a statement saying the senator endorsed efforts to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands, but the release was noncommital about Webb's support for the so-called gun show loophole.

Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman and researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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