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A nation divided over guns: gun shows and gun protests

10:15 AM, Jan 28, 2013   |    comments
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LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. / WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This weekend gun buyers converged on Gwinnett County to stock up on guns and ammo in case Congress approves a sweeping clamp-down on gun control.

And in Washington, demonstrators from across the country rallied, demanding that lawmakers do just that.

The nation continues to be divided over guns.

Neither side expects to convert the other.

The end game for each side is simply to win the upcoming legislative battle in Congress over what to do about the president's proposed gun laws.

At the gun show at the Gwinnett County fairgrounds in Lawrenceville, sellers held the merchandise high above the crowd for all to see, and spread it across acres of tables -- all of it completely legal, now -- military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, and the ammunition for them, commanding premium prices, double and triple what the prices were just a few months ago.

And the demand is higher than ever.

People waited in line for two and three hours to get inside to buy and sell.

Brothers Phil Purser and Virgil Purser, there to browse, call it panic pricing and panic buying.

"There are a lot of people who want to have a firearm for self-defense," Virgil said. "And now they feel that right is threatened."

"A lot of our freedoms are currently under the knife," Phil said. "I think the current regime that is in office right now is trying their hardest to criminalize a lot of things that should not be criminalized. I think a lot of people are going to push very strongly to criminalize what has been legal activity."

"Buy it while it's legal," said Virgil, "because overnight we could be turned into criminals just for owning a firearm. And nobody wants to be defenseless.... If we put too many restrictions on law-abiding people being able to buy a weapon or buy ammunition and actually defend themselves, then criminals are going to be the winners in the end, because they'll do whatever it takes to get weapons and get ammunition for it. And we'll be sitting ducks."

Kevin Nguyen was there to sell a gun.

"I just don't see the point of somebody trying to stop, trying to ban, something that's in the good hands of good citizens," he said, "versus trying to go after the real problem."

Steven Harris bought a holster for his pistol, and said he doesn't think Congress will approve the president's proposed gun legislation.

"Obama, with these laws he's trying to change, people here at the gun show want to get what they can before it's all gone," he said. "It's dangerous, because the criminal's got them, so why can't we have them? Right?"

In Washington, a hundred residents of Newtown joined thousands of people from across the country in a silent march, despite chilly temperatures and snow-covered ground.

And at a rally after the march, they urged Congress to ban military style assault weapons and high capacity magazines -- tools of choice for mass murderers.

Deborah Hill, a proofreader from Landover, Md., said she arrived at 8 a.m. "because of the deep sadness over the many, many lives lost from gun violence." She said she was hoping to honor a 23-year-old neighbor who was killed in October.

"You don't come out here on a day like this for nothing," Hill said.

More than 1,000 white posters with the names of victims of gun violence were passed out to participants, but many also brought their own. "Gun Control Now" and "Stop NRA" were some of the most popular, but homemade signs were also in abundance.

Members of the Women's Initiated Peace Movement carried pink cardboard guns that said "Gun control now" and hearts that read "Arms are for hugging."

The march was organized by Molly Smith, the artistic director of Washington's Arena Stage, and her partner Suzanne Blue Star Boy. Smith said they were horrified after hearing news of last month's shootings in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead. Although she had never organized a march before, Smith compared the event to the women's movement activities she had participated in during the 1970s.

"It just popped out of me, it's everybody's issue," she said. Despite only a month to organize the event, Smith and her committee were able to raise about $46,000 and secure some big name supporters.

"It's going to take the will of the American people," actress Kathleen Turner said. "I think it's very possible, very reasonable. I think it's common sense."

"People feel so strongly about this; they want to put their feet into their feelings," Smith said.

Mari Bailey, a high school teacher from Phoenix, said she traveled to Washington to honor her son who was shot and killed eight years ago. Bailey has been working for stronger controls on weapons since then and views the tragedy at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School as something that could actually lead to real change.

Not everyone agreed with the marchers. Chris Hekimin, an engineer from Germantown, Md., and member of the National Rifle Association, stood with a group across the street displaying signs protesting new gun laws.

"I'm here to defend our constitutional rights," Hekimin said. "Without armed citizens, this country wouldn't exist."

Marchers walked through the city in a line that stretched roughly two blocks to the base of the Washington Monument, where they were greeted by a chorus singing America the Beautiful.

Once the crowd arrived at the monument, speakers called for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and for universal background checks on gun sales.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the crowd it's not about taking away gun rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment, but about gun safety and saving lives. He said he and President Obama would do everything they could to enact gun control policies.

"This is about trying to create a climate in which our children can grow up free of fear," Duncan said. "This march is a starting point; it is not an ending point. ... We must act, we must act, we must act."

Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s non-voting representative in Congress, agreed.

"This time we the people are stepping up," she said. "And this time we will not step back."

Amy Journo's children attended Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"I feel hopeful, cautiously optimistic," she said, "and I hope this is just the start of a bigger movement, to keep not only our children safe, but the citizens."

A divided nation, and Congress is now in the crossfire.

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to begin hearings on gun control this coming Wednesday.

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