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Protesters on each side of gun debate turn out for wintry demonstration

By Amanda Garrett • Dec 20, 2015 at 6:00 PM

The battle over gun rights continued Saturday as people on opposite sides of the issue passed by each other downtown saying little more than a friendly “Merry Christmas.”

About 50 protesters bundled in coats and hats joined the frigid March Against Weapons and Fear, a demonstration aimed to change Ohio laws that allow people to carry guns in public, either openly or concealed.

Five counter-demonstrators — including a woman with a handgun in a pink holster strapped to her leg — planted themselves along the march route, standing alongside a tripod made of muskets.

Nancy Dollard, 45, of Uniontown, carried a sign reading: “No open carry you NRA (National Rifle Association) Terrorist.”

When she was a teenager, she said, no one would have thought about shooting up a school. Now her children, both in high school, are being taught what to do if a gunman opens fire on campus, she said.

“That’s not normal,” Dollard said.

Yet it was the November shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood that provides abortions that prompted Dollard to join Saturday’s march, she said, because she’s both pro-choice and anti-gun.

“In my day, we had fist fights to resolve things ... now people reach for guns,” she said.

About two blocks away, on the other side of Main Street, Greg Gustaevel, 53, of Akron stood with his friend Tony Tilson, 38, of Barberton with the muskets they use during war re-enactments.

“The protestors think the Constitution only covers muskets and that muskets don’t exist any more,” Gustaevel said. “But here they are. Muskets do exist.”

Yet Gustaevel said the Constitution’s right to bear arms extends to all weapons, whether they shoot one round or 30, he said. And he wants to choose whatever weapons he wants to best protect his family or himself, he said.

“Quoting my good friend Tony: Do you want to take care of a threat yourself in three to five seconds or wait three to five minutes for police to arrive,” Gustaevel said.

Fannie Brown, 61, of Norton said she also wanted to protect people, but said she was marching against guns to do so.

“I’ve seen so many African-American males killed day after day after day after day after day,” Brown said. “We just have to do something.”

Brown said she believes in right to bear arms, but “no one needs an automatic weapon that shoots 100 round in two minutes for hunting or self-protection.

Because the federal government seems unable to change gun laws, Brown said she wants state legislators to act.

“Most citizens want to have some gun control and elected officials need to listen to their constituents,” she said.

It was the second Akron march against Ohio gun laws led by retired United Methodist Rev. John Beaty in recent weeks.

He organized demonstrators after Daniel Kovacevic caused an uproar by carrying a military assault rifle and handgun on walks through the city. Despite calls by some for police to intervene, Akron police said there was little they could do but monitor the situation because Kovacevic broke no laws.

Although everyone interviewed Saturday said they were aware of Kovacevic, none cited his armed walks as a motivation for their public involvement Saturday.

Some gun-rights advocates, while strongly supporting Kovacevic’s rights to walk with weapons, even conceded Saturday that they worried his actions may have hurt their cause.

Brief interviews with a half-dozen people from each side of the gun issue revealed some common ground.

Not all of the anti-gun protesters oppose Americans’ owning hunting rifles and shotguns.

And not all pro-gun advocates think changes aren’t needed to prevent recent incidents, particularly school shootings and the California terrorist attack.

But the solutions, gun- rights advocates said, aren’t new laws. They are enforcing the laws we have, providing better mental health care and blowing the whistle on friends and family who might hurt someone.

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©2015 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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