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Capital Chatter: Reflections from a 2nd Amendment rally

Organizers tried to talk about guns without demonizing those who disagree with their views.

The tone.

That's what struck me about Saturday's Second Amendment rally at the Oregon Capitol.

The tone was gracious.

Unlike so many political or social-issue rallies at the Capitol, the organizer didn't set out to demonize the opposition. And because gun rights is such a fractious yet important issue in our society, I'm devoting most of today's column to the rally.

Kevin Conzo, who founded Good Guys With Guns, began the midday event by apologizing for "any negativity I have shown the opposition."

Speaking about the young people who mobilized for gun control following the school massacre in Parkland, Fla., he said: "These young, energetic youth are our future. We can disagree with their viewpoint; however, at GGWG we will not tolerate bullying of any kind. After all, their cohesive push, their stand for what they believe in, is giving them a common purpose to be inclusive.

"This is what the country needs. This is what Oregone needs – Orygun."

Conzo, a recent transplant to Oregon, hails from Boston.

He went on: "GGWG disagrees with their assessment of the issues. We feel a person's individual liberty guaranteed them under the Second Amendment is the right to protect oneself. If they so choose to do that with kung fu or a firearm, that is their personal choice, not the government's.

"I urge you, do not take the tools of defense away from the millions of good guys by continually restricting or eliminating the sales of any tools of defense. They're constantly being used by criminals on an offensive level. When there is a threat to our safety, these are the very tools good people need … whom you will wish had the means to protect you."

That is a legitimate viewpoint, regardless of whether you agree. Yet too often, people on either side of the guns, Second Amendment and public safety debates are characterized as extremist by the opposition.

Opposing ballot measure: Saturday's rally drew about 300 people to the Oregon World War II Memorial in Willson Park on the west side of the Capitol. A string of speakers, ranging in age from high school to retirement, spoke for the Second Amendment and against a potential state ballot measure — Initiative Petition 43 — that would require registration of currently owned semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, and would ban their future sale.

Despite universal support for gun-ownership rights, not everyone spoke favorably of the NRA.

State Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, was the only legislator whom I saw there, although former state Rep. Jeff Kropf spoke. So did Joey Nations, a Republican candidate in the 5th Congressional District.

A primer against gun control: The rally served as a primer on why many Oregonians fear gun control. They believe America is safer when well-trained, responsible people are carrying guns — and that firearms restrictions would make the country less safe. They believe the Second Amendment provides an unmitigated right to bear arms. Some fear that gun registration would lead to gun confiscation.

They are angry when politicians and the media use the inaccurate and imprecise terms of "assault weapon" or "assault rifle." Some speakers urged the crowd to avoid using "weapon" as a synonym for gun.

A bit of background: "AR," as in the AR-15 sporting rifle, is not a designation for "assault rifle." It stands for ArmaLite, the U.S. company that developed the rifle decades ago.

Critics contend the only purpose of an AR is to hurt or kill people. Not so. Pistols, other than for target shooting, are the guns that fit into that category.

Semi-automatic guns — which include the AR and many other firearms, including pistols — have been around since the late 19th century.

Semi-automatic means that when the trigger is pulled, not only is a bullet fired but the next round also is loaded.

The AR-15 and its cousins are popular: They're rugged and dependable for hunting, ranching, shooting competitions, recreational target shooting and personal safety. They're modular and customizable, such as for different calibers or to adjust to a person's body size. I'm told they can be outfitted for ranchers to fire a lightweight round that is strong enough to kill an intruding varmint but not loud enough to scare grazing cattle.

Hooray for science: The second annual March for Science also took place Saturday on the Capitol grounds. Conventional wisdom would suggest the two groups would be at odds. But conventional wisdom can mislead. These were not counter-rallies, as Conzo pointed out.

As the sign-bearing, slogan-chanting March for Science walked past, the Second Amendment rally politely paused its speakers. And then one rally participant went further. He stepped out from the crowd, praised science teachers, and urged his colleagues to cheer for science as the marchers went by.

"Hip-hip, hooray.

"Hip-hip, hooray.

"Hip-hip, hooray."

That is graciousness.

That is finding common ground, if only for a few moments.

Awaiting your descriptions: Readers, I know you'll correct any inaccurate descriptions about firearms, so please email me. Thank you.

I don't own guns. I have family members and friends who do, and I have enjoyed target shooting with them. I also went through police firearms training because I believe it is important for journalists to understand firearms and to use correct terminology. But like all of us, I have more to learn.

Appreciating Phil Walker: In the spirit of learning from those with whom we disagree, it's appropriate to finish this column by honoring Phil Walker, whom I considered "The Sage of West Salem." A longtime farmer, community volunteer and county political figure, he was one of the most decent, most insightful people I knew. He died April 6 at age 64.

I first got to know Phil when he was a community member on the Statesman Journal Editorial Board and then wrote a column for a number of years. He exuded common sense, often with an acerbic flair that I found entertaining, if not always fit for print.

We disagreed on many, maybe most, political issues. I valued his opinion; I trusted his judgment; I appreciated his straight talk. I'd often call him up and ask for his take on this or that issue that I didn't quite understand.

Phil and I did agree on the things that mattered, like the importance of family and the challenge of letting your kids find their own way. His wisdom made me a better parent. His devotion to his wife was inspiring. His insights strengthened my journalism.

I feel as if I have lost a part of my soul.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Hughesisms.com/Facebook or YouTube.com/DickHughes, where he posted his videos of the Good Guys With Guns rally.