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Second Amendment rally set for Saturday in Belchertown drawing opposition

  • File - In this Dec. 20, 2017, file photo from left, Ammon Bundy, Ryan Payne, Jeanette Finicum, widow of Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, Ryan Bundy, Angela Bundy, wife of Ryan Bundy and Jamie Bundy, daughter of Ryan Bundy, walk out of a federal courthouse in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File) John Locher

  • Joe Arpaio, center, a former sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County, talks with Robert Bliss, front right, of Ware, during the 4th Annual Flag Day Second Amendment Rally in 2017 at Swift River Sportsman Club in Belchertown. Arpaio spoke during the event.



@dustyc123
Monday, June 11, 2018

BELCHERTOWN — Pro-gun activists are celebrating their fifth annual “Flag Day Second Amendment Rally” on Saturday in an event that is already drawing stiff local opposition.

The yearly event, which is billed as celebrating and asserting the Second Amendment, will feature extremist speakers like brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who have led armed standoffs against the government in Oregon and Nevada, as well as at least one speaker who has a history of rubbing shoulders with white nationalists.

The group Belchertown Voices for Justice has organized a “Rally to Stop Gun Violence” that afternoon on the Town Common in opposition to the pro-gun rally.

“The rally gets bigger every year, and the folks are a delightful group to celebrate with,” Second Amendment Rally organizer Dave Kopacz said. This year, the rally has gotten big enough to include a Friday-evening concert at the Swift River Sportsmans’s Club.

“As interest grows and the number of participants grows, this year it has really taken on a life of its own,” Kopacz said.

That growth, and the group Kopacz brings to town, have drawn fierce opposition from concerned local residents.

Belchertown Voices for Justice is being joined by at least 12 co-sponsoring organizations — the Belchertown United Church of Christ, the Pioneer Valley Women’s March and Springfield Teens for Action, for example — to oppose the Second Amendment event. The Rally to Stop Gun Violence will feature speakers like recent Belchertown High School graduate Lily Stowe-Alekman.

“It seems sort of even more egregiously upsetting that there would be people celebrating and promoting guns when we know that gun violence is very preventable,” said Belchertown Voices for Justice member Justine Dymond, referencing recent school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida. “I’m a parent, I’m tired of… hearing that my child has had to go through yet another drill, and tired of our children fearing for their lives.”

Dymond said her group are also critical of the speakers the pro-gun rally has previously brought to town, and those who are coming this year.

Last year’s Second Amendment Rally featured former Arizona sheriff and Springfield native Joe Arpaio, whose history of racist behavior includes a criminal contempt conviction — recently pardoned by President Donald Trump — for refusing to stop racially profiling Latinos during patrols.

Among this year’s speakers joining the Bundy brothers are several figures who have made it onto the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of extremists: anti-gay Springfield-based pastor Scott Lively, whose homophobic propaganda includes co-authoring the widely debunked book “The Pink Swastika,” which claimed homosexuality caused extreme militarism in Nazi Germany; and the executive director emeritus of the radical pro-gun organization Gun Owners of America, Larry Pratt, who throughout his career has been linked to white supremacists.

Also speaking at the rally will be Richard Mack, a former county sheriff in Arizona whose Supreme Court challenge to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act weakened that gun-control law in the mid-1990s and who has since become a prominent figure in the “Patriot” militia movement.

“I don’t care about controversy,” Kopacz said when asked about this year’s speakers, adding that he’s focused only on putting together a “well-rounded” educational presentation. “We do what we do with love in our hearts. This is not a violent revolt, this is a celebration.”

Critics, however, aren’t buying that the event is one of love.

“It doesn’t feel like love at all, it feels very threatening,” Dymond said. “It feels threatening to a whole range of people.”

The Second Amendment Rally will take place at the Swift River Sportsmans’s Club from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. The Rally to Stop Gun Violence will take place on the Belchertown Common from 1:30 p.m. until 3:30 p.m., with sign making beginning at noon at the old Town Hall.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.