Pa. gun rights supporters rally around right to bear arms at annual Capitol event

An attendee holds his weapon at the Rally to Protect Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms at the state Capitol on September 29, 2020. (Kate Landis/WITF)

An attendee holds his weapon at the Rally to Protect Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms at the state Capitol on September 29, 2020. (Kate Landis/WITF)

A group of Pennsylvania gun rights supporters argue state lawmakers should ensure the right to bear arms is well-protected. A number of speakers made that point to around 200 people who were gathered on the Capitol steps Tuesday.

In past years, more than 1,000 people have shown up to the annual rally. This year, it had to be rescheduled because organizers received a threat.

Speakers talked about self-defense, law and order, and upholding the 2nd Amendment against “socialists.”

“Without your Second Amendment, you don’t have your other rights. You have what you have in China,” State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R, Butler County) said.

Several speakers criticized Gov. Tom Wolf’s restrictions against firearm sales in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Those have since been relaxed after several Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices urged the Wolf administration to do so.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, speaks at a 2nd Amendment Rally on the Capitol steps in Harrisburg, Pa., on September 29, 2020. (Kate Landis/WITF)

As attendees spoke, supporters waved pro-gun flags and signs. Many brought their handguns or rifles to the event.

One of those people was Walter Gibson, a man in his 40s who lives outside Pittsburgh. He carried a long-barrel pistol, which resembled a rifle, that he made himself.

Pittsburgh-area gun owner Walter Gibson poses for a photo during an annual 2nd Amendment rally at the Capitol building in Harrisburg on Sept. 29. (Sam Dunklau/WITF)

Gibson, who has appeared at a number of events advocating for Open Carry across the commonwealth, said he has a right to do so.

“I feel safe because I’m carrying. What other people do is their concern,” he said.

Gibson was among a few gun owners of color who gathered at the Capitol steps.

“I’m here specifically to represent African American gun owners because I think that we are an under-represented group,” Gibson said. “People assume that black people are anti-gun, and I want to be here to share that that is not the case.”

Harumi Schuster, right, and Aimi Kato pose for a photo during a 2nd Amendment rally at the Capitol building in Harrisburg on Sept. 29. (Sam Dunklau/WITF)

Harumi Schuster, a student who just moved to Pennsylvania from California, was handing out pro-gun flyers along with a friend before the rally started. Though she said she isn’t old enough to own a gun in Pennsylvania just yet, she’s wary of the government’s ability to protect her.

“It’s really important to defend our 2nd Amendment, because if the government has the guns, then we can’t really trust them because they’ve been so untrustworthy before,” Schuster said. “It’s better for the people to have it to make them in check.”

In most areas outside Philadelphia, you don’t need a license to own a firearm, though you do need a background check to buy in most cases.

The state’s Stand Your Ground law allows Pennsylvanians to use deadly force if they believe they’re threatened.

Pennsylvanians can buy most types of firearms, unless otherwise restricted by law.

Firearms instructor Grant Schmidt of Philadelphia was among those advocating for their use when necessary. He said, absent the police, people should be able to defend themselves in a dangerous situation.

“Police are second responders. The truth is that you are your own first responder, for your community, for yourselves and for your families,” Schmidt said. “We want you to be an asset to police, not a liability, and we want you to back them up because they are your backup.”

Gun control advocates argue too many people die annually from gun accidents and shootings, pointing to the large number of guns owned by Americans compared to the rest of the world as part of that problem.

A study from the Swiss-based Small Arms survey from 2018 showed Americans owned or possessed more than 390 million firearms. The only other country that comes close is India, at 71 million.

Johann Schuster, representing gun rights group Gun Owners of America, poses for a photo during a 2nd Amendment rally at the Capitol building in Harrisburg on Sept. 29. (Sam Dunklau/WITF)

A number of rally-goers at Tuesday’s event, like Johann Schuster who represented Gun Owners of America, said they support more training as a way to prevent those kinds of incidents.

Schuster said he’s taught his children to use their family’s firearms responsibly.

“Always treat it like it’s loaded. Always point it in a safe direction. Never touch the trigger until you’re ready to fire and you’ve acquired a target, and you also have to know what’s beyond your target in case a bullet goes through your target,” he said.

Walter Gibson said he feels similarly, but doesn’t think training should be required.

“I happen to think that being trained is a good idea. You should do it, but legally mandating it before you can exercise a right is a terrible idea because it opens it up to abuse,” Gibson said.

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