The thing that so angers me, and I think so angers you, is that this president is using children as a human shield to advance a very liberal agenda that will do nothing to protect them. —Rep. Steve Toth

AUSTIN, Texas — Thousands of gun advocates gathered peacefully Saturday at state capitals around the U.S. to rally against stricter limits on firearms, with demonstrators carrying rifles and pistols in some places while those elsewhere settled for waving hand-scrawled signs.

The size of crowds at each location varied — from dozens of people in South Dakota to 2,000 in New York. Large crowds also turned out in Connecticut, Tennessee and Texas. Some demonstrators in Phoenix and Salem, Ore., came with holstered handguns or rifles on their backs. At the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, attendees gave a special round of applause for "the ladies that are packin'."

Activists promoted the "Guns Across America" rallies primarily through social media. They were being held just after President Barack Obama unveiled a sweeping package of federal gun-control proposals.

The crowd swelled to more than 800 amid balmy temperatures on the steps of the pink-hued Capitol in Austin, where speakers took the microphone under a giant Texas flag with "Independent" stamped across it. Homemade placards read "An Armed Society is a Polite Society," "The Second Amendment Comes from God" and "Hey King O., I'm keeping my guns and my religion."

"The thing that so angers me, and I think so angers you, is that this president is using children as a human shield to advance a very liberal agenda that will do nothing to protect them," said state Rep. Steve Toth, referencing the children at the White House's announcement regarding gun policies.

Rallies at statehouses nationwide were organized by Eric Reed, an airline captain from the Houston area who in November started a group called "More Gun Control (equals) More Crime." Its Facebook page has been "liked" by more than 17,000 people.

Texas law has some restrictions on where concealed handgun license-holders can carry firearms, but they are allowed at most places, including the Capitol. But Reed said rally-goers shouldn't expose their weapons: "I don't want anyone to get arrested."

At the New York state Capitol in Albany, about 2,000 people turned out for a chilly rally, where they chanted "We the People," "USA" and "Freedom." Many carried American flags and "Don't Tread On Me" banners. The event took place four days after Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the nation's toughest assault weapon and magazine restrictions.

In Connecticut, where task forces created by the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy are considering changes to gun laws, police said about 1,000 people showed up on the Capitol grounds.