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Gun rights advocates meet on Pa. Capitol steps for lawmakers’ annual Second Amendment rally

  • By Jaxon White/LNP | LancasterOnline
State Rep. Bryan Cutler, of the 100th House District, spoke at the annual Second Amendment rally in Harrisburg on April 30, 2024.

 Jaxon White / LNP | LancasterOnline

State Rep. Bryan Cutler, of the 100th House District, spoke at the annual Second Amendment rally in Harrisburg on April 30, 2024.

Pete Kingsley drove about an hour from his home in Strasburg on Tuesday morning to join more than 100 pro-gun activists on the state Capitol steps in Harrisburg.

Kingsley, vice president of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, said his goal was the same as when he began attending the annual Second Amendment rally more than a decade ago — to urge state lawmakers to protect the right to bear arms.

From the rally’s podium, House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler, whose 100th District includes Strasburg and Lancaster County’s Southern End, promised to do just that.

“We understand that it’s not just a tool that we use for hunting, it’s one for self-defense,” Cutler said.

Cutler criticized legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House last month, with the support of three Republicans, that seeks to ban the production, sale and purchase of gun parts without serial numbers and guns built entirely from those parts.

“What they were really talking about was not allowing citizens to build their own firearms at home, like I do,” said Cutler. “They were also talking about banning many of the relics that were brought back by our veterans because they weren’t serialized.”

Supporters of the ban have said unserialized gun parts are difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement officers to track back to their origin. Police and prosecutors have called firearms made from such parts “ghost guns” for this reason.

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro in March said on X, formerly Twitter, that he’d pass the House’s ban if it reaches his desk.

“Ghost guns are dangerous, DIY weapons criminals can put together in their own home — and I’ve been fighting for legislation like this since I was Attorney General,” Shapiro wrote.

The bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-led Senate.

Present at the rally — organized by Jefferson County state Sen. Cris Dush, chair of the Senate’s Second Amendment Caucus — were several leaders of Gun Owners of America.

Antonia Cover, the group’s director of women’s outreach, said her experience as a sexual assault survivor changed her stance on being a gun owner.

“The police officers, if they get there, they’re minutes away,” Cover said. “But as a first defender… (gun owners) can defend themselves and they can protect their children.”

Stephen Willeford, a Texas-based spokesman for the group who is often credited with preventing a 2017 church shooting, encouraged rally attendees to cast their ballot in November’s general election for pro-gun candidates.

The number of lawmakers and citizens who participated in the annual Second Amendment rally has decreased in recent years. In 2019, the crowd was large enough to pack the Main Rotunda of the Capitol.

Harry Sills, the gun group’s legislative assistant, addressed the crowd size while accepting an award for his work organizing the event.

“If there is a next rally next year… we better have more people,” Sills said.

Campaign grievances

Though Cutler spoke at the event with several members of Gun Owners of America, the group had endorsed his primary challenger, Dave Nissley, during this year’s primary race.

Pennsylvania GOA director Val Finnell said Cutler hasn’t done enough to oppose some of the gun restriction bills proposed by Democrats. He also said he wouldn’t have invited Cutler to the rally, but Dush was the organizer who had the ultimate say over which lawmakers could speak.

During the primary, Cutler defended his pro-gun bona fides and received the National Rifle Association’s highest recommendation for office.

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