The Atlanta event drew nearly 40 supporters who stand in favor of expanded and universal background checks. It was held as part of No More Names: National Drive to Reduce Gun Violence, a 25-state bus tour organized by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of city leaders, including Michael Bloomberg and Kasim Reed, who support gun-control legislation.
Georgia mother Piyali Cole, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, evoked the Sandy Hook tragedy in a speech at the rally.
"I have an eight-year-old. When Sandy Hook happened, I pictured my son's classroom," she said. "As mothers, we feel every death."
Alice Johnson, founder of Georgians for Gun Safety, said that the failure to pass legislation has directly led to mounting gun deaths in the United States.
"For 20 years, we have always said there will be more mass shootings, there will be more deaths on the streets of America until we make some changes," she said. "[No one's] voices will be as strong as the voices of the victims and survivors who continue to die!"
After every person had spoken, the event organizers proceeded to read aloud the names of several hundred people killed in gun violence since the tragedy in Newtown. Though the second-amendment protesters disagreed with the exact numbers, according to Slate, at least 5,339 people in the United States have been killed by firearms since Dec. 14 of last year. Of those people, 145 died in Georgia.
But the rally drew its fair share of opponents as more than 30 gun-rights activists, including several who carried weapons and ammo to the event, also showed up to oppose the coalition's message.
The Second Amendment supporters said they worried that legislation which expanded background checks would take rights away from law-abiding citizens. They also claimed that federal legislation such as the Manchin-Toomey amendment would create a federal gun registry.
"I was all for it, but they want to keep the data forever, and that was my issue," said Betsy Shaw Kramer of Johns Creek. "That's Big Brother tenfold."
When asked why he carried a gun to the counter-protest, Michael Britt of College Park said that he wanted to get the most media attention out of this protest, since media sources don't regularly cover the pro-gun rallies at the Capitol.
"We've had a number of rallies here," he said. "Of course the media don't turn out for ours. We've had 200, 300 people each time. Dwarfs this. Media don't turn out for that. Bloomberg has the money to buy the media, so we get our dollars worth out of Bloomberg's dime."
Metro Atlantan Lucy McBath told the story of how a legal firearm owner shot and killed her son at a Florida gas station. When her son and his three friends refused to turn the music in their car down at the man's request, he open fired on the car. The man, she said, is using Florida's now-infamous Stand-Your-Ground law as a defense in his first-degree murder trial, which McBath says is unacceptable.
"There needs to be more effective verbiage, more stringent verbiage, with the legislation, so that individuals won't take these laws out of context to do what they believe they can do," she said. "With the Stand-Your-Ground law, you don't actually have to prove that you were threatened, but that there was a 'reasonable threat.' That kind of verbiage opens a loose cannon."
Georgia has a similar Stand-Your-Ground law, which Democratic state legislators failed to repeal last year.
According to Cole, the primary struggle for gun-control during the 2013 legislative session was to prevent new measures from rolling back restrictions on carrying guns in public places. Although expanded background check laws failed to pass this year, Democrats vowed to reintroduce legislation for 2014.
The rally attendees also called upon Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson to support measures such as the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have imposed criminal background checks on online gun sales and closed the gun-show loophole. When the bill came up for a procedural vote this past spring, the two Republicans voted against the measure. It failed the 60-vote margin to end filibusters by six votes.
State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, claimed yesterday that gun-control advocates, including himself, were in the mainstream of both Georgia residents and gun owners. According to a poll trumpeted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 91 percent of Georgians now favor mandatory background checks for all gun buyers. A separate poll of 945 gun owners nationwide found that 82 percent favored background checks for all gun buyers. Both surveys were sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Fort said at the rally that he worried that the gun debate would be hijacked by conservatives, who he believed do not represent the majority. He characterized "people [who] try to put themselves as the mainstream on this issue" as "loud, and mean, and evil."
The counter-protesters didn't take very kindly to the assertion. One man yelled back "We're not evil!"
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