'They want to take your gun rights': Lawmakers push for firearms at state Capitol rally

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Corrections & Clarifications: Wesley Bolin Plaza was misspelled and Stephen Willeford's actions were described incorrectly in an earlier version of the article. Willeford wounded the mass shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

A stroll through Wesley Bolin Plaza may be a common destination for couples courting each other, but on Saturday morning, Ka'Sondra Bible, from the West Valley, and Carey Johnson decided to mix it up for their second-ever date by attending the Celebrate & Protect Second Amendment Rally at the Phoenix park.

A lineup of gun rights advocates, including state politicians, spoke at the event, which, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety was attended by approximately 500 people.

A photo relating to firearms that Bible had on her dating profile caught Johnson's attention, and now they were sipping on cucumber lemonade under the shade of a tree as speakers in front of the state Capitol took turns praising the movement or lambasting gun control efforts. Many in the crowd carried firearms. Among them was Johnson, a Republican Party precinct committee member who said he was there for "Freedom."

"They're trying to ban guns like this that legal gun owners own," Johnson said of gun control advocates, pointing to the AR-15 he sported across his torso. Decked out in tan camouflage fatigue accessorized with a Glock on his waist and a hunting knife tucked into a chest pocket, Johnson cheerfully added about his more demurely dressed date, "It's her first time at one of these. I brought her."

Donning all-black attire, the soft-spoken 51-year-old Bible said she is a gun owner and a U.S. Army veteran but not overtly political. She did, however, say national leaders, including President Joe Biden, were being hypocritical in excluding gun owners from their calls for protecting rights.

"Freedom should be for all. Those who believe one way shouldn't be shunned because they don't believe as you," Bible said.

'Take away your gun rights'

U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., stood on the stage and suggested some of his congressional colleagues did not share his love for the country.

"Let me tell you what right the hard left — the Marxist Democrats in Congress want to do — they want to take away your gun rights," said Biggs, who represents the 5th Congressional District in the Southeast Valley.

State Rep. Quang Nguyen, R-Prescott, took to the mic and touted a record of voting against gun control bills in the state Legislature.

"I'm telling you right now, if for some reason we lose the House and Senate and the Ninth Floor, I guarantee you, you wouldn't be able to walk around with your firearm," Nguyen said, referencing the floor of the Executive Tower where the governor's office is located. "Your rights to keep and bear arms will be taken away from you in a flash."

RidersUSA, the nonprofit that hosted the event, is "a group of constitutionally minded (motorcycle) riders that get together to educate the public on issues that would affect our sovereignty of our country," spokesman Mike Sullivan said.

Sullivan mentioned the rally focuses on educating the public about the Second Amendment and alerting them to perceived threats against this right.

"We're going to do everything we can to fight against people who want to take it away," Sullivan said.

'Granted to you by a higher power'

Everytown, a gun control advocacy group, ranks Arizona as No. 42 in the country for gun law strength. The National Rifle Association points out that Arizona does not mandate the licensing of owners, a permit to carry, a permit to purchase, or the registration of firearms.

Questioned about specific attacks on the Second Amendment, Sullivan cited what he called misinformation being propagated by politicians as a notable concern.

"We hear about red flag laws. We hear about universal background checks. I mean, these are all buzzwords that these people use to basically cover for some way that they're going to infringe on that right," Sullivan said.

"I do not believe there should be any restriction on your right that has been granted to you by a higher power." Sullivan added. While the group emphasizes the significance of education on the Second Amendment, they do not presently provide instruction to their members on gun safety.

"Child safety locks and keeping guns locked up are all important things that people should know about. But are we specifically involved in teaching people about that? No, we are not," Sullivan said.

'Senseless acts of gun violence'

The rally took place three days after a shooting in Kanas City left one person dead and 22 injured, marking the 50th mass shooting of 2024, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Sullivan contended that having more armed individuals could potentially reduce mass shootings. He referenced Stephen Willeford, who in 2017 shot and then pursued a man who had opened fire in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and killed 26 people. Willeford spoke at the event, calling for states to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

Arizona Republicans were seeking to revive Senate Bill 1198, aiming to prevent universities from prohibiting concealed carry. Gov. Katie Hobbs was expected to veto the bill, as she did last year.

Carol Gaxiola, a volunteer with the Arizona chapter of Moms Demand Action, said on Friday that she was not surprised to see state lawmakers "shamefully attend" the rally considering they have spent years working to weaken gun control laws.

"In the wake of the devastating shooting in Kansas City, it is vital that we unite and work together on proactive gun safety policies aimed at preventing similar tragedies in the future. Our movement remains steadfast in working with lawmakers on both sides on gun safety measures that protect Arizona families from senseless acts of gun violence," she said.

During the rally on Saturday, Lauren Snyder, walked around the park, a black M1-51 strapped over her blue and daisy floral print sundress.

"I actually have a disabling condition, so I can't fight physically. I need my tools of self-defense to be able to protect myself and my family. I have a baby now," Snyder, 37, from Chandler, said as she gestured toward a stroller where her 1-year-old son occasionally peered out from under the sun canopy.

From under a white flower-adorned straw hat, Snyder said she works with the group Women for Gun Rights and has testified at state legislative hearings. She said many legislators do not understand how a firearm works.

"Our big thing is educate, don't legislate," Snyder said. "We want to meet people where they're at. And we want them to understand I'm not carrying anything because I want to hurt somebody. I'm carrying because I don't want to be hurt."

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona lawmakers push for gun rights at state Capitol rally