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A Brief History of Pro-Gun Rallies at Sites of Mass Shooting

Open-carry activists announced they’re holding a rally near the site of the recent school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas – but they’re not the first

A man holds a Come and Take It flag during a pro gun-rights rally at the state capitol in Austin, Texas.

Pro-gun rallies happen all the time – sometimes even close to sites of gun massacres.

Eric Gay/AP/REX Shutterstock

When the news broke that open-carry activists in Santa Fe, Texas, were planning a pro-gun rally at a park less than five minutes from Santa Fe High School, the small community outside of Houston objected, since they were still grieving from a shooting last month that killed eight students and two teachers. The rally, organized by the organization Open Carry Texas, is set to take place at the end of June, and supports the movement to arm teachers in preparation for what’s become a distinctly American issue.

“It’s sad that this is a state that’s accepting these kinds of school shootings as sort of inevitable,” deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party Manny Garcia told the Dallas News, calling out the event for its “utter lack of empathy.”

CJ Grisham however, an outspoken leader of Open Carry Texas, defended the organization’s decision to hold the rally near the school, stating to Dallas News that in comparison, it would be “no more insensitive than holding a rally against gun rights.”

“Gun rights activists will not be cowered by the liberal narrative that seeks to shame gun owners out of defending life and liberty,” he said.

As insensitive as it may seem, this is not the first time gun lobbyists have gathered in communities mourning those lost to gun violence. Here, three other times pro-gun groups targeted communities that had been victims of gun violence.

1999: Denver, Colorado
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Suddenly, schools felt unsafe, and the issue over access to firearms reached a critical mass like never before.

The NRA had a major gun rally planned in Denver just two weeks after the attack. Many people in the community, including then-Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, asked the pro-gun association to reschedule. But on May 1st, they went ahead with the rally.

Roughly 2,000 people counter-protested, but it didn’t take the sting out of a pro-gun rally taking place on the heels of, at that point, the worst school shooting in American history.

Still, actor and gun advocate Charlton Heston led the rally on May 1st, 1999 with a wavering speech that both failed to address the massacre head-on and criticized the media for using the tragedy to promote an anti-NRA agenda. “I remember a better day when no one dared politicize or profiteer on trauma. We kept a respectful distance as the NRA has tried to do now. Today, carnage comes with a catchy title. Splashy graphics, regular promos, and a reactionary message of legislation,” said Heston, claiming that it was the media who were in fact responsible for trivializing the tragedy. 

littleton denver colorado columbine nra protest

2017: Toronto, Canada
One of the worst mass shootings in Canada occurred on December 6th, 1989, when a man named Mark Lapine killed 14 women outside of Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, in the name of “fighting feminism.” The 25-year-old gunman claimed that feminists had ruined his life, and opened fire on a classroom full of female students. Commonly known as the Montreal Massacre, December 6th is a day held in reverence, especially at the university where it happened.

This November, days before the 28th anniversary of the shooting, a group of pro-gun lobbyists called “All Against a Quebec Firearms Registry” announced they would be holding a pro-gun event nearby the site of the tragedy. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Guy Morin, the event’s organizer, chose the location specifically because of the controversy it would stir.

Due to public outrage – including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tweet calling the event “A needless and cruel provocation” – the event was moved to a different, undisclosed location.

2018: Colorado and Utah
This February, survivors of the 17-person shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, sparked a national movement for action and gun control in the United States. On March 24th, students from all over the country walked out of their classrooms to demand their right to safety. It appeared that the movement was becoming unstoppable, and widely supported by other high schools and young people across the nation.

In April, however, a group of students in Utah who call themselves Students for Liberty announced a series of pro-gun events, including meetings with firearm advocates and other students in support of the second amendment, despite the increasing number of on-campus shootings.

Group organizer and sophomore Collin Thorrup, aware of how some might interpret the cause, emphasized that, “there is another side to this story.” He claimed that Students for Liberty does, in fact, want to somehow put an end school shootings, and can use guns as a way to keep them from happening. “It’s estimated that 500,000 are saved by guns each year,” Thorrup told KSL.com. “We put it right in the middle, and figured that nearly 100 people every 16 minutes are saved by guns.” The controversial student walk-out occurred for 16 minutes.

A similar incident occurred around the same time in Colorado, as students from Woodland High School in the town of Woodland Park staged an alternative walkout during the March 24th action, this one in support of gun rights. Student Hayley Armstrong told a reporter for Fox News, “I don’t believe that guns are the problem. I think it’s more of the people and that people are trying to blame an inanimate object for something that’s not them.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Charlton Heston told the crowd in Denver that his rifle could be torn from his “cold, dead hands,” and that the scene was in the Michael Moore film Bowling for Columbine. Heston made that statement at a rally on May 20th, 2000, in North Carolina, not in 1999. 

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