Thirty-five Second Amendment supporters from across Montana came to the Capitol as part of a national effort to rally at all state capitols Saturday.
The rally was organized nationally by the National Constitutional Coalition of Patriotic Americans.
Several attendees said they had not heard much local publicity and turnout was not what many had hoped for. But for Chris Schmaus of Columbia Falls, the number in the crowd was less important than the distance many traveled and why they had come to Helena.
“We didn’t get 50,000 people but we’ve got a small group that are here to fight for our rights,” he said.
Attendees stood in a circle below the statue of Thomas Meagher, talking about what they see as misinformation about guns and a lack of common sense from those pushing for gun control. Their efforts to discuss guns with gun control advocates have been met with contempt and bullying, they said.
The problem, they contend, is not guns themselves, and new restrictions will not provide more safety.
“I’m a firm believer in the saying that ‘If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns,” a woman form Ravalli County responded.
The national discussion of guns has escalated in recent months following the largest mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas in which 58 concert goers lost their lives and the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.
The shootings have brought a call for gun control and rallies, including March for Our Lives in Helena that drew 1,000 people, mourning the loss of life and targeting groups such as the National Rifle Association and pro-gun politicians.
In response to those calling for stricter gun laws, those opposed to restrictions have also organized and rallied, including nearly 200 people who rallied at the Capitol the same day as March for Our Lives.
“All we want are for the laws in place to be enforced,” Schmaus said.
Schmaus pointed to the Capitol, which does not allow weapons inside, and decried it as stripping his ability to defend himself.
Those pushing for more gun control in the wake of a school shooting in Florida and mass shooting in Nevada push a left-leaning agenda, whether intentionally or not, several attendees said.
“With the school shootings, my heart goes out, but they’re being used as pawns,” one woman said, suggesting that other cultural issues such as parenting and video games deserve scrutiny.
While they had gathered for the Second Amendment, it was a host of conservative positions and opposition to government overreach that appeared to bind the group together, as they spoke at length about immigration, affirmative action, taxes and politics.
“It’s not about self-defense, it’s not about hunting, it’s about not having the government have all the weapons,” one man, who declined to provide his name, said about the Second Amendment.