Gun-rights activists push back with demonstration

Rally at Capitol draws 150 after 4K packed March anti-gun event

  "Make some noise if you believe in the Second Amendment!"

Shouts, whistles and whoops from scores of gun-rights supporters echoed off the state Capitol in response to the call by Jeremy Gill, an Albuquerque firearms instructor.

"Let me hear you if you know what 'shall not be infringed' means," Gill cried. "... It's a beautiful statement, simple and elegant. Say it with me: Shall. Not. Be. Infringed."

The crowd -- a mix of parents, children, businesspeople and motorcycle riders -- chanted along.

About 150 people, many of whom had rifles slung from their shoulders or pistols on their hips, gathered Saturday at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe as part of a series of rallies at statehouses around the country. The demonstrations, which drew hundreds in several cities, were prompted by a recent push for stricter gun control laws, a largely youth-led effort galvanized by the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff.

After the shooting, Parkland students began calling on lawmakers to enact tough gun laws. They visited the Florida Capitol and the U.S. Capitol, and they appeared on national television, urging expanded background checks and restrictions on semi-automatic weapons. They also organized a Washington, D.C., March for Our Lives event last month. In solidarity with the Parkland teens, high school students nationwide held sister marches in their communities, including Santa Fe. By The New Mexican's count, nearly 4,000 people marched from the Capitol to the Plaza on March 24.

On Saturday, gun-rights activists pushed back -- though in far smaller numbers.

"Three weeks ago," said Robert Overton of Rio Rancho, one of the organizers of Saturday's rally, "this country banded together and did a little thing called the March for Our Lives because they felt that guns were the problem, and guns needed to go away; the Second Amendment needs to go away; the Constitution is a bad thing. ... They refuse to focus on the real component here: the shooters."

Overton introduced an array of speakers who stepped up to the podium outside the Capitol to discuss their reasons for supporting the Second Amendment and to urge the crowd to vote for pro-Second Amendment candidates.

Colorful flags waved high, including the "Don't Tread on Me" flag of the American Revolution and a unique take on the U.S. flag, with stars and stripes in the shape of firearms.

Members of motorcycle gangs wore leather, people held signs decrying gun control and caps bearing the name of the National Rifle Association -- a fierce opponent of gun control -- adorned many in attendance.

"What is the thing, the driving force that the left has been using as pawns to get to us? ... Kids," Overton said as he introduced a young speaker. "Well, you know what," Overton said, "it's not all the youth that have been brainwashed."

Andreas Sandoval, a junior at the Academy for Technology and the Classics in Santa Fe, took the stage.

Sandoval told the crowd that kids across the country are worried about being shot at school. While most students are calling for gun regulations, he said, he believes schools would be safer if armed guards were there to protect them.

"Putting the blame on the gun isn't going to fix anything," Sandoval said. "It's the same thing as a pencil: If I'm taking a test and I misspell a word, I'm not going to blame the pencil."

Jennifer Wertz, a single mother of three, said her gun came in handy last fall during an armed robbery at an Albuquerque store where she was working.

The September incident made headlines. A man walked into the Circle K, where Wertz was a clerk, and pointed a weapon in her face.

"I took one step back, I pulled my gun from my back pocket, I cocked and I shot it," Wertz said. "He went down with one shot."

Her priority at the time, Wertz said, was to survive.

"It came down between me and him. It was a three-second decision. I am just grateful that everything turned out the way that it did and I was able to go home to see my kids."

The suspect, Ferron Mendez, who survived the encounter, was carrying an airsoft gun, court records show. He was charged with seven felony counts, all of which were dropped by prosecutors.

Wertz did not face charges, according to court records. But she said she lost her job for violating the company's policy on procedures during a robbery.

Toward the back of the crowd, single father Matt Adams watched the speeches with his 8- and 3-year-old children playing around him. They had driven from Albuquerque.

"I figured it was important to bring my kids up, to see that if you don't stand up for your rights, you won't have them," Adams said. He owns several guns that he uses for hunting, recreation and protection, he added.

Years ago, Adams said, he was shot at a barbecue in Oakland, Calif. -- hit with ricochet after a shooting started nearby.

Now, he always carries a gun for protection when he's out with his kids, he said. And he's teaching them how to use guns. His 8-year-old is already earning NRA certifications, and Adams plans to get a BB gun soon for his 3-year-old.

Destiny Lyautey, who drove from Farmington, said she considers guns a tool for equality and self-empowerment.

Guns put people on a level playing field, she said.

Lyautey, just 5 feet tall and

80 pounds, said she feels like her pistol grants her some recourse against people who are bigger and stronger than she is.

"No one -- no matter if you're Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender -- no one should ever feel victimized," Lyautey said. "... I was sexually assaulted and I don't want to feel like that ever again."

Contact Sami Edge at 505-986-3055 or sedge@sfnewmexican.c­om.