(Stevie Mathieu/The Columbian)
Times have changed, and gun laws need to evolve with the times, gun-control advocates said Tuesday afternoon as they rallied outside the Vancouver office of U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas.
For one, the National Rifle Association isn’t what it used to be, demonstrator Liz Campbell of Vancouver said. Fifty years ago, the NRA focused more on teaching gun safety; now its lobbying arm is more interested in making money from gun sales, Campbell said.
“They’re here to sell guns. They’re here to sell weapons. They’re here to make a profit,” she said.
Additionally, the gun-related incidents in the U.S. are becoming more tragic, those attending the rally said. A group of children was massacred in Connecticut. Gunmen have opened fire in crowded malls and movie theaters.
More than 25 people huddled together near the front steps of Herrera Beutler’s office carrying signs and sharing their stories. They also signed a letter for the congresswoman, asking her to support President Barack Obama’s gun-control proposals.
The gun-control advocates appeared to agree that the nation needs to place limits on assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines, and it needs to crack down on gun-show sales. Some called for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study on gun deaths and injuries.
Others at the rally said arming “good guys” with guns is not an adequate solution. You would have to arm everyone, and even then, a dangerous person would have the advantage. They would have the element of surprise once they pull a gun on another person.
Claudia Frahm of Vancouver shared what her daughter, a teacher, said about the idea to allow educators to carry guns in school, or the idea to increase the number of armed guards in schools.
Her daughter said: “I have a hard time keeping my purse safe in the classroom, let alone a gun,” recalled Frahm, a member of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. Frahm then added her own thoughts: “I think that we certainly send a message to our children when they go into the school and they see an armed guard there. It makes them more fearful, which they already are. We’re teaching them to combat violence with more violence. We’re teaching them that violence is OK. And it isn’t. No matter what, it isn’t.”
The Rev. Jeremy Lucas of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Battle Ground said he hopes all sides of the debate on guns can find common ground and use logic to consider all proposals to protect the nation.
“None of us want to see another dead child on TV,” Lucas said. He later added his own view to the conversation: “As a person of faith, my tradition does not, in any way, ever say that we should just arm everybody, have the good guys and the bad guys, and then just shoot it out. I don’t think that’s what anybody believes is the right way to go about this.”
The letter that advocates gave to Herrera Beutler’s office on Tuesday opens by asking her to support the gun-control proposals recently unveiled by Obama.
“Improving background checks for gun sales, banning assault weapons and decreasing magazine size, ending the freeze on gun violence research, improving safety in schools, and providing mental health care, are all reasonable measures toward decreasing gun violence in American communities,” the letter stated. “They do not take away anyone’s guns. They do not prevent purchase of guns for sport or home protection. I ask you to be a voice of reason and moderation in the gun-control debate.”
When reached for comment, Herrera Beutler’s spokesman, Casey Bowman, said the congresswoman will “give a fair hearing to any idea to put a stop to the horrible shootings that have taken place across the country,” but she is waiting to consider whatever legislation comes over from the U.S. Senate before making a decision about the gun-control proposal.
She will view the bill “through the lens of whether it’s affordable, effective and consistent with the protections offered by the Constitution,” Bowman wrote by email on Tuesday.
There are some parts of Obama’s plan that “have broad support and are clearly needed,” he added. “(Herrera Beutler) has long been supportive of strengthening mental health treatment and awareness. The Attorney General should review policies to make sure dangerous individuals aren’t slipping through the cracks and being allowed to own guns. And federal agencies should strengthen their data-sharing efforts on background checks.”
Emotions run high
At one point during Tuesday’s rally, some members of the group became fired up during an exchange with a gun-rights advocate who had been listening to the discussion. As Joseph Delli Gatti of Vancouver interjected his thoughts, several gun-control advocates walked over to engage him in a vigorous debate.
“When you try to add more legislation, you’re really infringing on other people’s rights,” Delli Gatti said, adding that a better solution is to enforce the gun laws already on the books. “I think we have enough bans already on assault weapons.”
“Get a musket if you want to have your Second Amendment rights,” one woman retorted.
Delli Gatti defended his stance: “Your weapons aren’t just to protect you in your home from invaders, it’s to protect you from the government. … Try looking at it from that perspective.”
As Delli Gatti turned to leave, he was approached by a member of the rally, thanking him for his participation.
“I think you’re brave to come,” Heidi Yewman told him. Yewman is a Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence board member.
She graduated from Columbine High School 13 years before the shooting there. One of her teachers died in that tragedy.
Gun control “is a really important issue, and it’s so important right now,” Yewman said later during the rally. “Seventy-eight percent of Americans want this. A huge percentage of NRA members don’t want assault weapons. … We all want to reduce gun violence in our country.”