Second Amendment rally draws support, opposition from local activists 

  • Ellen Hopman of Belchertown rallies with others to stop gun violence June 16, 2018, on the town common. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Charlie O’Dowd of Hatfield, center, rallies with others against gun violence, Saturday, on the Belchertown Common. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Julia Albro-Fisher, 14, left, and her mother, BethAnn Albro-Fisher, both of Northampton, rally against gun violence on the Belchertown Common, Saturday. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • A woman makes the hand gesture for peace to passersby during a rally to stop gun violence June 16, 2018, on the Belchertown Common. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Carol Bundy speaks Saturday during the fifth annual Flag Day Second Amendment Rally at the Swift River Sportsman’s Club in Belchertown. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Cliven Bundy speaks Saturday during the fifth annual Flag Day Second Amendment Rally at the Swift River Sportsman’s Club in Belchertown. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Springfield-based pastor Scott Lively, right, distributes a “grassroots army recruitment form” to a man who declined to be named June 16, 2018, during the fifth annual Flag Day Second Amendment Rally at the Swift River Sportsman’s Club in Belchertown. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • A man rests his “Make America Great Again” cap on his knee while listening to Cliven Bundy speak June 16, 2018, during the fifth annual Flag Day Second Amendment Rally at the Swift River Sportsman’s Club in Belchertown. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2018 7:45:08 PM

BELCHERTOWN — Guns were the focus of two events Saturday — one billed as a celebration of the Second Amendment and another denouncing recent gun violence in the country.

The “Flag Day Second Amendment Rally,” hosted by the Swift River Sportsman’s Club, sought to assert the Second Amendment during a time when organizers claim the U.S. government is infringing on gun owners’ rights.

“The government should be doing the exact opposite of infringing on our rights,” said Dave Kopacz, a rally organizer. “Gun owners cringe at the loss of life, and the big difference is that all violence is bad and the other side is hyperfixated on guns, which won’t help the problem.”

He said the Second Amendment is “primarily for killing tyrants.” Kopacz pointed to one of the rally’s speakers, Cliven Bundy, as an example of someone who has experienced the tyranny imposed by the U.S. government.

In 2014, Bundy and his sons, Ammon and Ryan, led an armed standoff against the federal government set off by a dispute over cattle grazing fees on federal land in Bunkerville, Nevada. The Bureau of Land Management seized cattle from the Bundy ranch in an attempt to force him to pay back over $1 million in fees for grazing cattle on federal land dating back to 1993.

Hundreds of armed anti-government activists rushed to Bundy’s defence until federal agents withdrew. He was subsequently arrested and indicted on 16 felonies. On Jan. 8, 2018, U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro in Las Vegas dismissed the charges against Bundy and his sons stemming from the standoff due to withholding of evidence by the government.

“People started coming and they come from all parts of the nation,” Bundy said. “They told me they were spiritually moved; they felt a spiritual draw.”

He denounced the media portrayal of the 2014 standoff with federal agents and branded himself a “political prisoner” after spending 700 days in jail.

“What we were protesting was our county sheriff,” Bundy said. “Why would we protest our country sheriff? I believe the federal government don’t have no jurisdiction authority over my ranch or my cattle or my life in my county, Clark County, Nevada.”

He said he went to local officials who have “sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution and state law” because they failed to protect his “life, liberty and property.”

The militia that gathered at his ranch in 2014 protected Bundy against a “tyrannical government,” he said.

Bundy did not just want to talk about guns but also about his concern that a militia is a “thing of the past.”

“In America I don’t think they are going to take your guns away from you, that Second Amendment right,” Bundy said. “But are they going to take the protection of the militia? They are trying so hard to whip this militia, they want Bundy to stand alone.”

Other speakers at the event, which drew more than 100 people, included Richard Mack, who was Graham County, Arizona’s sheriff from 1988 to 1996. He is widely known as one of seven sheriffs from across the country who challenged the constitutionality of the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, winning the case in a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in 1997. The effort, funded by the National Rifle Association, was based on the argument that the Brady Act’s unconstitutionality stemmed from provisions requiring law enforcement officers to conduct background checks, which they argued violated the 10th Amendment.

Dan Wos, a Second Amendment advocate and author; Kirk Whatley, a former nine-year town moderator in Hadley who owns Whatley Training LLC; Hal Shurtleff, an Army veteran and co-founder of Camp Constitution; and Scott Lively, a Springfield pastor, were also guest speakers at the event.

Susan DeLemus, a two-term state representative from the Stratford region of New Hampshire, delivered a speech at the event and said her husband, Jerry, “fell on the sword” for Bundy. Jerry DeLemus, a retired U.S. Marine, arrived to defend Bundy at his farm in 2014, and last year was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty in connection with the standoff.

Counterprotest

Across town at the common, the Belchertown Voices for Justice, a group started by local residents, held an event of their own to counter the Second Amendment rally. The event, which pulled a crowd of 50 to 80 people, was joined by at least 12 co-sponsoring organizations, such as the Belchertown United Church of Christ, the Pioneer Valley Women’s March and Springfield Teens for Action.

Recent Belchertown High School graduate Lily Stowe-Alekman referenced a nursery rhyme recently posted in a kindergarten in Somerville. The nursery rhyme, to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” reads: “Lockdown, lockdown, lock the door, shut the lights off, say no more. Go behind the desk and hide, wait until it’s safe inside, lockdown, lockdown it’s all done. Now it’s time to have some fun!”

Stowe-Alekman said, “It’s heartbreaking that it’s gotten to the point that we have to make a nursery rhyme so kids remember what to do. It’s reached a point where it’s not a shocking thing in our society anymore and it shouldn’t be a commonplace event.”

Northampton resident Julia Albro-Fisher said, “I think what Lily said about the nursery rhyme is really scary. We are being trained and prepared to stay alive in school where we should be learning, I think that’s really messed up.”

International Socialist Organization member and Northampton resident David Wood said, “In the last year there has been a groundswell led by young students, many of them teenagers, against the kind of violence that saturates this society. I see this as a continuation of that groundswell and protest against a far right that has been emboldened by (President Donald) Trump and his rhetoric and policies.”

He said hearing the nursery rhyme is really sad and shows what an “abysmal” state the country is in when children have to learn about this to stay safe in schools.

“Some people turn to solutions which we do not believe are actually going to make things better, like militarizing schools,” he said. “I think the solution is not further militarizing schools but it should be better resources in the school, such as better mental health counseling accessible to all students.”

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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