COEUR d’ALENE — Hundreds amassed at a Second Amendment rally on Saturday, many hefting signs blazoning their stance on potential federal gun regulation.
As encouraged by nonprofit Oath Keepers that organized the event, many who gathered outside Black Sheep Sporting Goods were packing. Most carried handguns and semi-automatic rifles. One touted an ArmaLite AR-50.
Several legislators and activists took the stage, all condemning Congress’ pursuit of a ban on assault weapons, or the creation of a gun-owner registry.
“I have trained about 9,000 out at our facility (on gun use),” said Ed Santos, owner of Center Target Sports, as he addressed the crowd by a massive American flag.
“I see that as 9,000 reasons for criminals to go somewhere else, or think twice before thinking to rob or injure an Idahoan.”
Santos further defended that semi-automatic weapons are “overwhelmingly” popular, and often used for hunting and target shooting.
Local lawmakers lauded preserving current gun ownership. Among them were Sen. Steve Vick, Sen. Bob Nonini, Rep. Vito Barbieri and Rep. Ron Mendive.
Each assured the state is pursuing legislation to block federal gun regulation.
“We’re working in the Legislature to protect your rights in Idaho,” Nonini said.
Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, said assault rifles are essential to forming militias that the bill of rights describes.
“Yes, it’s a weapon of war. That’s what it’s used for,” said Rhodes, who had traveled from Kalispell, Mont., and had a semi-automatic over his shoulder. “And it’s supposed to be in your hands.”
Requiring gun owners to register their names is equating them to criminals, Rhodes added.
If you add your name to a gun registry, “what you’ve just done is handed in your balls,” Rhodes said. “And ladies, handed in your ovaries, too.”
Bill and Kristie Kiley of Coeur d’Alene, each with a handgun holstered at their hips, held signs at the front row of the crowd.
Kristie doesn’t want to see guns taken away, she said, adding that her whole family shoots for sport.
“They know the safety of firearms. That’s first and foremost,” she said.
Bill said stripping folks of their semi-automatics wouldn’t prevent mass shootings.
“An assault rifle is only an assault rifle if the operator chooses to assault with one,” he said.
Todd Hoffman of Coeur d’Alene attended the rally with his AR-15 rifle, he said, to give the message that Idaho residents are well armed.
“I think they should tread lightly,” Hoffman said of government officials seeking regulation. “Because North Idaho will become North Ireland if they take it too far.”
Dale Heimbigner, lugging his ArmaLite AR-50, said the key to reducing gun violence is to teach proper use, he added.
“Don’t point it at something unless you intend to kill it,” Heimbigner said.
His friend Arnold Marquardt added that most who own guns are peaceful.
“The point of a gun is to protect life, not take it,” said Marquardt, also of Coeur d’Alene. “The only time to take it is to protect yourself or your country.”
Robert Elder, armed with an MP 5, said a ban on assault weapons is groundless.
“What are you going to do next? Ban cars? Cars kill more people than guns every year,” the Coeur d’Alene man said.
Elder would never give up his gun ownership, he said.
“It’s a part of me. They’ll have to take it from me,” he said.
Taylor Nagrone said guns have always been a part of his life. He and his girlfriend Megan Hardaway, who was wearing a .300 Winchester Magnum, have already gotten a BB gun for their 6-month-old boy, he added.
“We’re the greatest nation not because of our army, but because of our armed citizens and their right to form militias,” Nagrone said.
He is ready to take arms to defend his country when necessary, he added.
“We’re not white supremacists or radicals. We’re just civilians. Patriots,” Nagrone said. “Looking out for the future of our country.”