Part two in an ongoing series.
Dressed in olive-green fatigues and brandishing placards touting the legality of the AR-15 assault rifle, an estimated 300 to 400 gun rights advocates descended on Albany on April 14 in a show of unity intended to send a message to the State Legislature: Don’t take our guns.
Protesters began their march through the state’s capital in the shadow of the 119-year-old Capitol building and headed downhill to the Times Union Center, before they dispersed in a parking lot on a side street.
Many came, they said, to make a statement: The AR-15 assault rifle must stay legal across the country. The AR-15, which fires between 90 and 180 rounds per minute, was the gun used in the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, in which 17 students and teachers were killed.
Since then, mass protests, with hundreds of thousands of gun-regulation supporters, have taken place across the nation, including student walkouts on March 14, in which roughly a million young people took part.
Lost in the recent debate, the Albany protesters said, were the voices of law-abiding gun owners who have never committed crimes with guns. As part of its ongoing “Safety and the Second” series, the Herald was in Albany to hear them.
“The majority of law-abiding citizens should not be punished en masse for the actions of the mentally imbalanced,” said Christopher Pajarillo, an Army veteran who served in Honduras and Panama and fought in 1991 in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, otherwise known as the first gulf war.
Pajarillo, who’s from Syracuse, was exceedingly polite as he spoke. He immediately followed most questions with a sharp “Yes, sir” or “No, sir.”
“The people against gun control were not invited to the conversations” in the wake of Parkland, he said. “If the common-sense gun laws that have been in place since 1934 aren’t working, they might want to think about getting rid of them and talking to us about what we would want.”
Pajarillo was referring to the National Fire Arms Act of 1934, Congress’s first in a series of gun-control measures over the decades. The act imposed a tax on the transfer of weapons from one owner to the next.
Ray Switser, a hunter from Washington County, a half-hour north of Albany, said that Saturday’s rally was months in the planning. Anti-gun-regulation protests have occurred regularly, he said, since the State Legislature passed, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed, the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, otherwise known as the SAFE Act. It was voted on in the days and weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, in which 26 children and teachers were killed.
Many gun owners, Switser said, now worry that the state government might move to further limit gun rights. He, like every protester who was interviewed, began by saying that he had come “to support the Second Amendment.”
“We don’t like the government telling us what to do,” Switser said.
As he spoke, the crowd chanted, “Cuomo’s gotta go,” “Guns are good” and “We will not comply.”
Bill Wells, of East Berne, in the Albany region, said he owns a gun for protection. “I want to defend myself if ever I have a need,” he said.
Another protester agreed to an interview, but did not want to be identified. “I’m not telling you my name,” he said. “You put someone’s name in the paper, and the next thing you know, you’ve got the cops knocking on your door — in New York, specifically.”
The man, who lives in Clifton Park, had a thick beard, and wore a baseball cap and sunglasses. He said he was a veteran who had served in Iraq, but would not offer details about his military service. He said he did not grow up with guns, but is a gun owner now. He hunts, he said, and he wants to own a gun “just because.”
He said that Americans must have guns to protect against tyranny, and added that he was willing to take up arms against the government if he believed it was necessary to stop a dictator. Asked to elaborate, he said that the recent actions of the FBI’s leadership border on tyranny, and that he was upset that the agency had “spied” on Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser who was placed under surveillance because of possible ties to Russian undercover agents.
“I’ll fight for the government,” the man said. “I’ll fight against it.”
He added that he believes the Parkland students who have recently organized gun-control rallies should “keep their mouths shut.” “I don’t think they should dictate policies,” he said. “The kids should not have been allowed to walk out.”