Paper guns, real politics: Second Amendment advocates march on the Capitol to support Trump and oppose new state laws

Demonstrators target expanded background checks, assault weapon definition

Travis Dunn of Sacramento rallied with hundreds of other Second Amendment advocates on the steps of the state Capitol on Sunday, February 12.

Travis Dunn of Sacramento rallied with hundreds of other Second Amendment advocates on the steps of the state Capitol on Sunday, February 12.

Photo by Bert Johnson

A crowd of more than 200 gathered near the Tower Bridge and marched to the state Capitol in support of gun ownership on Sunday.

The February 12 march, organized by William Andrew Edson of Stockton, drew supporters from various Second Amendment advocacy groups and right-wing organizations such as the California Valley Patriots, Californians Opposing Gun Restrictions, the California Three Percenters and American Civil Defense.

Participants in the rally brought an array of conservative paraphernalia, from the Gadsden flag with its iconic coiled rattlesnake to “Make America Great Again” hats and shirts decorated with the silhouettes of rifles. Some wore olive combat gear, and one marcher cheekily carried a banana in his hip holster. None of the participants carried actual firearms, however, due to California’s open carry ban—an absence that immediately set the rally apart from similar events in other states.

Individual marchers demanded less strict gun legislation and expressed a broad-ranging sense of unease with contemporary American culture. Some, like Joe Vsetula of Modesto, felt they had been passed over in favor of other groups: women, undocumented immigrants or the wealthy friends of elected officials.

“Why is it illegal aliens seem to have more rights than I do?” he asked.

Some demonstrators joked with each other about how liberal “snowflakes” should take notes on how to protest peacefully, a reference to recent anti-Trump rallies where agitators committed vandalism and isolated incidents of assault.

Katrina Fox, who is from Nebraska but now lives in Sacramento, said that she joined the march to “show we have a voice, too”—even though she doesn’t own a gun herself.

James Mcgriff of Modesto, who is black, quoted Malcolm X when asked why he attended the march: “A man who will stand for nothing will fall for anything.”

Edson himself doesn’t claim membership in any particular group. Rather, he said he’s just a shooting enthusiast who organized the rally on Facebook in an attempt to involve people in supporting the Second Amendment.

Sunday’s march came on the heels of a raft of new gun laws in California, including Proposition 63, which requires criminal background checks for ammunition sales, and Senate Bill 880, which expanded the definition of an assault weapon. It did this, in part, by eliminating the “bullet button” loophole, which had allowed certain semiautomatic rifles to be easily equipped with high-capacity magazines. One of the bill’s co-authors, Sen. Steve Glazer, was quoted in East County Today saying, “It’s about a mechanism on assault-style rifles whose sole purpose is to allow someone to kill a lot of people quickly.”

For Edson and his fellow marchers, however, the ban on assault weapons is a red herring. “None of that stuff makes your gun any more deadly,” he contended.

Some protesters, including Edson, even carried black cardboard cutouts of assault rifles to represent a class of weapons that they believe has been unfairly singled out.

Politically, Edson, who says he didn’t vote for Donald Trump, views the right to bear arms through a populist lens. “It’s the average American’s insurance policy,” he explained. “You don’t have to rely on the government to protect you.”

But Bill Durston, president of the Sacramento chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility as well as Americans Against Gun Violence, says those arguments don’t hold water. “There’s no net protective value from owning or carrying a gun,” he countered in a phone interview. “There’s no legitimate civilian use for a rapid-fire semi-automatic with interchangeable magazines.”

On Monday, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty introduced a bill that would close another gun loophole in California, which currently allows school districts to authorize civilians with concealed-carry weapon permits to bring their firearms on campus. Guns are prohibited in schools by state law, but the existing loophole has been exploited by some districts, including Folsom Cordova Unified, and threatens student safety, according to McCarty.

Marco Gutierrez, the Mexican-born Trump supporter who gained notoriety for his comments about “taco trucks on every corner,” was also in attendance. He explained that, although he recently purchased a gun after receiving anonymous threats related to his incendiary statements, he came to the rally mainly to show his support for the organizers.

“To take that away is to change the history of the United States,” he said of the Second Amendment. “It’s like taking tacos away from us.”