The fledgling Gays Against Guns activist group made its Main Street, America debut on Monday. While the turnout was small, demonstrators left hopeful they could turn at least one November 2016 election toward gun control.
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About 20 members of the newly formed group canvassed a Fourth of July parade in the village of Patchogue, New York, handing out flyers condemning the local Republican congressman, Lee Zeldin, who is the main sponsor of a gun control bill that will be introduced in the House of Representatives this week.
Gays Against Guns came together after 49 people were killed and 53 injured at a LGBT nightclub in Orlando last month. The group debuted at New York City’s Pride parade in late June. Monday’s protest was their first foray into a small town.
Hundreds lined Main Street in the 11,700-person village, watching local dance groups march and community figures drive by in flag-decked cars. While most focused on the festivities, many accepted the flyers.
Tim Murphy, who helped organize the demonstration, said he hoped the group could bring “sassy brashness” to the fight for stricter gun control laws.
“Today is the start of an election season-long campaign to shame the NRA puppets in Congress as far and wide as we can,” Murphy said.
Zeldin was out at several other Fourth of July events in the district on Monday, said his communications director, Jennifer DiSiena, in an email. In his absence, Gays Against Guns made a puppet to represent him.
“It’s unfortunate that the Democratic party and their most loyal supporters are politicizing this issue and protesting the constitution on Independence Day,” DiSiena wrote.
DiSiena said no one in Congress was in favor of terrorists being allowed guns and that groups such as Gays Against Guns should unite behind Zeldin.
“They also should come to grips with the bigger picture that the Orlando shooter was a radicalized Islamic terrorist pledging allegiance to Isis and yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ while violently targeting the LGBT community,” DiSiena said.
“Efforts by the Democratic party to narrow this issue to just gun control is alienating the rest of our country who understand the bigger picture.”
Zeldin plans to introduce a bill in the House this week, in response to Democratic pressure for improved gun control legislation. His proposal has been rejected by gun control advocates because of its weak protections and similarity to a National Rifle Association-backed bill that failed in the Senate.
Gays Against Guns activists said they wanted to be sure Zeldin’s constituents knew about the bill ahead of November, where the congressman is up for re-election.
The most vocal local opponents of the protesters shouted quick comments about the right to bear arms. Many more in attendance, including gun owners, said something had to be done to address the gun violence problem in America. They just weren’t sure what.
“It’s easy to blame the gun when the system is at fault,” said Eric Billings, treasurer at the Emanuel Lutheran church. He said he understood and respected the demonstrators’ opinion, but was not convinced the NRA was responsible for gun problems in America.
“Something has to be done because need to be able to go out and have fun without being afraid,” Billings said.
At Fire Island on Sunday, Gays Against Guns reprised a walking memorial to Orlando first staged at New York Pride. Doing so attracted new supporters, organizers said. Two of them were Patchogue locals – Donald Gamarano, a retired teacher, and Louis Weise, who owns a salon in town.
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Both men, who have lived in the area for 25 years, said they were shocked that stricter gun control laws were not enacted after 20 first-graders and six educators were killed in the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut in December 2012. Then came Orlando.
“After Orlando, I thought the only way we’re going to get this done is the gay people,” Wiese said. “And I know we’re gonna get this done.”
While canvassing the parade route, Weise added, he encountered several of his customers who he knew to be proud gun owners. Some were not happy to see the flyers, he said, adding that he would not be surprised if they stopped coming to his salon. But he was also confident he could find new customers.
“I thought the response was going to be much worse,” he said.
Gays Against Guns members agreed, though they did face vocal opposition from a few people. One woman tore the flyer up; another demonstrator got involved in an argument with a man who told him he was “cultural rot”.
There was also agreement that some lessons had been learned at the parade, such as the importance of showing up before the parade ends, which some demonstrators did not do.
— Gays Against Guns (@GAGnoguns) July 5, 2016
But they continued to march up and down, speaking with residents about why they think Zeldin should be voted out of office. The demonstration concluded at his office, where they held a “die in” and chanted: “How many more have to die?”
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