Sporting a replica of a Spartan helmet and with an AR-15 slung over his shoulder, a .45 semi-automatic in a holster on his hip and the Roman numeral III on his back, Brian Davison’s attire stood out slightly among the thousand or so protesters gathering on the steps of the Legislative building in Olympia Saturday. His sentiments didn’t.
“I took an oath to support the Constitution, and that’s what I’m here doing,” he said, explaining he took the oath as a port district commissioner in Kitsap County.
The Olympia protest was one of many staged around the nation Saturday, as Second Amendment advocates rallied in response to the many anti-gun violence demonstrations held since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida in February. Friday was also the anniversary of the school shooting at Columbine High School, and student walkouts were seen across the country.
In Spokane, Hundreds of open-carry advocates flocked to the north end of Franklin Park.
The local March for Our Rights rally featured dozens of pro-Second Amendment signs and bright yellow “Don’t tread one me” flags, many held by veterans with guns on their hips.
The group of around 200 people were greeted with honks of support by vehicles driving on Division Street.
Tadd Howard, from Spokane, helped organize the rally and emphasized the good he believes guns can do in protecting citizens.
“We really want to show our fellow Spokanites we’re not crazy, right-wing extremists,” he said. “We’re just freedom-loving members of the community, and we have a strong feeling for safety. We take that safety very seriously.
“We’re a peaceful group of people and we want to educate people on the importance of firearms. They can help save your life in a time of danger and they help preserve America’s freedom.”
Local leaders spoke at the rally, including state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, and Spokane city councilman Mike Fagan.
“The role of government is to protect our god-given inalienable rights, not take them away,” Shea told the pro-gun group.
“If you want to take away our AR-15, you are in rebellion of the constitution,” Shea added.
Back in Olympia, at least half of the people at the open-carry demonstration were well-armed. The roman numeral III, sported by Davison and others, stands for the percent of colonists some people estimate were willing to rebel against England in 1775.
Below the steps near the speakers microphone, the 3 Percenters had set up a table and were signing up new members. Davison said he considers himself in accord with the rebel colonists, “but I‘m not in the club.”
His black metal helmet, unique among the protests, was actually pretty comfortable, Davison said, and he sometimes wears it while riding on his motorcycle. He acknowledged he was considerably better armed than the ancient Spartans who originally wore them, but he subscribed to their motto of “molon labe” – an expression of defiance that translates as “come and take them.”
That pretty well summed up the feelings of the Olympia protesters, who flocked to the Capitol Saturday to hear elected officials and candidates promise to protect their rights keep their weapons.
The protest was an answer of sorts to the March for Our Lives, which filled the same steps one month ago. Like that earlier gun-control demonstration, participants were urged to register and vote, to be active in their community, to change the government more to their liking in this year’s mid-term elections.
Some speakers called people who want gun control “the grabbers.” Aryeh Rohde, a junior at South Whidbey High School who arranged counter-protests to recent gun-control demonstrations, called his classmates “misguided.” Gun rights supporters are afraid to speak up, he said, but they need to come out and voice their beliefs.
Jered Bonneau, Republican candidate for Congress in Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, called gun control demonstrators “crazy loonies.”
“They’re protesting to the government, to take their freedoms away from them. It’s insanity,” said Bonneau, who addressed the crowd with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder. “We don’t need more gun control, we need more freedom.”
Bonneau, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, said the rifle is Romanian made – “I can’t afford a Russian one,” he said – purchased about nine years ago. He said that while McMorris Rodgers has a high rating from the NRA, he’s more supportive of gun rights. He would oppose a ban on bump stocks, which she has said she’d support.
State Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, told the crowd that because Republicans went this year from a one-vote majority in the Senate to a one vote minority, Democrats were able to introduce gun control legislation.
“None of that would’ve happened if we had control,” Fortunato said. But if the election brings one more Republican to the Senate, and two more to the House, the GOP will control both chambers and “we would stick it to the governor and the attorney general.”
Fortunato also describe gun rights as a women’s rights issue, because it provides them with a degree of safety.
Sitting in a folding lawn chair at the base of the steps, a well-tended AR-15 at her side, Christine Bilyeu cheered.
She agreed with Fotunato that women don’t have the strength of men and sometimes need a firearm for protection. “I firmly believe that it makes us equal,” she said, quoting an old gun rights adage that God created man, but Samuel Colt makes them equal.
A Navy veteran who worked for 17 years as an electric technician for submarines, Bilyeu was attending her second gun rally at the Capitol. She has a bad back and learned to bring a chair to sit through the speeches. It was good to see the crowd, she said. “It let’s people know we’re out here, and standing up for our rights.”