With many toting signs bearing messages like “Don’t Tread On Me,” “Pro Civil Rights” and “This Is My Warning Shot!,” an estimated 400 people lined Main Street in Rising Sun on Saturday to protest against House Bill 294.
If passed into state law, according to the protesters, HB 294 would place excessive restrictions on gun ownership that would infringe upon Second Amendment rights.
The rally, which lasted more than an hour on a warm, sunny afternoon, took place outside the Main Street office of Delegate David Rudolph in hopes of convincing him to vote against the proposed law.
Conowingo resident Bob Willick, a steering committee member of the Cecil County Campaign for Liberty, which organized the event, explained that the protest was aimed directly at Rudolph because Willick’s organization believes the state lawmaker had been inclined to support HB 294.
During a telephone interview on Sunday afternoon, however, Rudolph told the Cecil Whig, “I will be voting against the bill.”
His awareness of the planned protest did not sway him, Rudolph reported.
He did not appear at that rally because, at that time, he was in Annapolis introducing three House bills aimed at securing government funding for three Cecil County projects, he noted.
Rudolph said he made his decision to oppose HB 294 late last week, after reviewing the latest versions of the House and Senate bills and consulting with numerous federal and state law enforcement officials, who told the legislator that the proposed law would not preclude outlaws from accessing guns.
“They said the bill would not make the community safer,” Rudolph said.
On Thursday, two days before the rally, Rudolph started sending emails to make his position known to people who had contacted him in hopes of persuading the lawmaker to vote for the bill, as well as against it, he reported.
Willick received his email from Rudolph on Friday night, he acknowledged.
But nevertheless, the event still served the broader purpose of protesting HB 294 and gun control in general, he said.
The rally also served the purpose of persuading other lawmakers who haven’t made up their minds about HB 294, as well as of reminding Rudolph of his publicized stance on HB 294, he added.
(The vote on HB 294 is expected to take place either late this week or early next week, Rudolph reported.)
“This is pre-emptive. You don’t want to wait until after the vote happens and then cry about it. You want to do it beforehand to keep pressure on him and the other (lawmakers),” Willick said.
Protesters complained that HB 294 calls for a $100 handgun qualification license fee, which must be paid every five years for renewal. They contended that the government could raise that fee and make it economically infeasible to legally own such weapons.
Members of the contingent also opined that, because gun owners would have to register with the government, the government would know the whereabouts of all weapons for confiscation purposes should it decide to ban them.
Willick emphasized that his involvement in the rally hinges on protecting the Constitutional right to bear arms, qualifying that he is not a gun enthusiast.
“It’s not even a gun thing with me,” Willick said. “I have a couple of pistols, and it’s probably been three years since I’ve pulled the triggers on them. I don’t have assault rifles or anything like that. For me, this is about following the Constitution and freedom for people who want to keep and bear arms.”
Curtis Bibey, a Perryville resident holding a sign reading, “Self-defence (sic) is a God-given right,” expressed similar Second Amendment concerns.
“I do not own a gun right now, but I want to preserve the right to own one,” Bibey explained.
Joe Tropp, of Earleville, also said it was a Constitution rights issue for him.
“I do not own a firearm. I am fighting for the rights enshrined in the Constitution, which says we have that right and I don’t want any of our rights taken away,” Tropp said.
Most of the protesters interviewed by the Cecil Whig, however, identified themselves as gun owners.
One of those people, Brenda Buchanan of Perryville, held a handmade sign that read, “RUDOLPH – Does it take a rally for you to vote correctly?”
Buchanan and her husband, Andrew, own guns because they enjoy the sport of hunting. Andrew Buchanan toted a sign reading, “More guns, less crime.”
“I’m here because I’m afraid (Rudolph) is going to vote for the bill and it seems like the government infringes on our rights more and more every day,” Brenda Buchanan said.
The protest drew participants of all ages, including some teenagers like Jerry Suiters, 15, and his buddy, Alex Miller, 14, both of North East. Both teens enjoy hunting deer and geese.
“There is too much government control, and it’s taking away our right to protect and defend ourselves,” Alex said as his father, Dave Miller, stood beside him and nodded approvingly.
The elder Miller, who works as a corrections officer in Delaware, emphasized that his son is interested in government and has been following the gun debate on his own. It was Alex’s decision to attend the protest, his father noted.
“My son’s formed his own opinion by watching what’s going on in Washington and he has very steadfastly stood up against the government overreach on his own,” he said. “I don’t prod him. I’m very proud of him and his buddy, Jerry. There should be more 14, 15, 16-year-olds up here. They’re the next wave of voters, and the politicians should understand that. We will not go away.”
A few times during the protest, leaders led the crowd in chants. “Guns save lives,” was one of the rally cries. Several passing motorists on Main Street beeped their horns and gave gestures of approval.
Leaders also circulated a petition against HB 294 and similar gun control laws, and it garnered 371 signatures, according to one of the event leaders.