SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns are known for their strong support of conservative principles, including family values and the U.S. Constitution — particularly the Second Amendment. The right to keep and bear arms was on full display Saturday as gun rights advocates took to the streets of downtown Salt Lake City in support of the Second Amendment.
Utah Citizens for 2nd Amendment Rights organized a March 2 march from the Salt Lake City and County Building to the Utah State Capitol aimed at rallying support for a cause they say is being threatened by the Obama Administration and others promoting gun control.
"When I saw and heard what was happening after the (November) elections I realized that it was a very likely possibility that our Second Amendment rights would be infringed upon at some point," said Jack Oskins, founder of Utah Citizens for 2nd Amendment Rights.
“The State of Utah needs to be a proactive leader in preserving the liberty afforded us by the Constitution and not allow any forces to trample this right,” said march co-organizer Brent Maxwell of West Jordan.
Approximately 300 people participated in the event that saw scores of gun owners openly carrying rifles and handguns as they marched up State Street to the steps of the capitol.
Casey McDevitt of Salt Lake stood in the crowd with an AR-15 rifle hanging from his shoulder. He said gun rights in America are “slowly being eroded by our president and other congressional members.”
“(The politicians) are doing it under the ploy of our safety and our protection,” he said. “In actuality, firearms in the hands of responsible gun owners are one of our greatest tools and best protection as a society.”
McDevitt expressed concerns about proposed laws that would ban assault weapons, rifles and possibly limit handgun ownership. He said the current gun control culture is the “first step” toward repealing gun rights to all citizens.
“I think they want to disarm us as a society,” he said. “An armed person is a citizen, (while) an unarmed person is a slave.”
He said more focus should be aimed at addressing mental health issues that contribute to people illegally accessing guns and committing crimes rather than taking firearms away from law-abiding citizens — a sentiment echoed by his wife, Michelle McDevitt.
“They are not helping with gun control,” she said.
The rally featured various speakers including Bill Clayton of Gun Owners of Utah, a gun rights activist group; Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan and Saratoga Springs mayor and former congressional candidate Mia Love.
“Freedom once lost is the most difficult thing to gain,” Love said. “Freedom makes this country great.”
She said gun control advocates are currently making a concerted effort to infringe on the rights of citizens to exercise the freedom to own firearms and she implored members of the audience to continue to fight for their constitutional rights.
During her speech, Love recounted the occasion of her first wedding anniversary when she received from her husband, “my very first gun — a Marlin .22 rifle with a stainless steel barrel and scope.”
“I said, “There is a man who loves his wife,”” which drew cheers from the crowd.
Others in the crowd expressed their view that gun ownership is a critical right to be preserved at all costs.
“This demonstration will collectively raise our voices in calling upon our elected officials and the public to ensure the conservation of this sacred entitlement,” said Kaysville resident Sasha Seegmiller.
On Friday, the "constitutional carry" gun bill that would allow weapons to be concealed without a permit passed the Utah House after a provision was included to prevent concealing a weapon with a round in the chamber. HB76 now goes to the Senate.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, said the measure allows someone openly carrying a gun without a concealed weapons permit to cover it with a coat or other attire.
Gov. Gary Herbert told reporters on Thursday that he was not pleased with Mathis' bill because it went beyond helping Utahns in largely rural areas who normally openly carry their weapons avoid running into trouble when they wear a jacket.
The governor, who said he believes Utah's current gun laws are adequate, has warned lawmakers that he expects them to show restraint on gun legislation. Herbert's office said he will not comment further on the bill unless it makes it to his desk for action.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company