A Bucks County gun owners group formed after the Sandy Hook shooting has split as some members turn their attention toward wooing voters and legislators undecided about guns.
Concerned Gun Owners of Bucks County is now Concerned Gun Owners of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians for Self Protection.
Concerned Gun Owners of Pennsylvania will continue to hold pro-gun rallies and other public activities, while Pennsylvanians for Self Protection focus on lobbying efforts.
Members of the two groups say they will remain close allies.
The groups differ on whether the so-called ‘open carry’ tactic should be used at rallies. Because Pennsylvania doesn’t require a permit to openly carry firearms, some pro-gun supporters display their weapons in full view during events.
Last month, a series of Little League games in Morrisville was cancelled when town police anticipated that counter-protesters from Concerned Gun Owners of Bucks County might practice open carry when they attended an anti-gun rally in a community park.
Actions such as carrying shotguns at rallies can distract from lobbying and education efforts, Carlo Grilletto of Pennsylvanians for Self Protection said in a phone interview.
“[Open carry] does not cause people to want to understand more,” he said, “and it might drive some people away.”
But according to Jim Vetter, of Concerned Gun Owners of Pennsylvania, the split is not a statement on whether members should bring firearms to rallies or not.
The group has always been neutral on open carry, he said.
“If a person so chooses to do that at a rally, we can’t stop them from doing it,” Vetter explained. “But if they do it, that’s their right to do it as much as it is to hold a poster or get up and speak and exercise their First Amendment right.”
Before it can officially work as a statewide lobbying firm, Pennsylvanians for Self Protection is seeking 501(c)(4) tax status from the IRS, Grilleto said.
That would make them a “social welfare” group, allowing them to spend up to 50 percent of their budget on political actions like campaign advertisements without needing to disclose the names of donors.
Grilleto added that the group will also consult with the National Rifle Association as it begins lobbying in municipal, state and federal voting districts.