HELENA - Tea party supporters toting guns gathered on the steps of the Montana Capitol on Friday, but the rally was something of a misfire, bringing out far fewer people than in previous years.

The Lewis & Clark's Conservative Tea Party group received permission to bring unloaded and secured weapons onto the Capitol grounds to support allowing guns in off-limits areas. Weapons are usually prohibited on Capitol grounds. People opposing the rally say guns in public areas are a threat of violence and have no place around the Capitol.

Friday's three-hour gathering was sparsely attended compared to a similar rally last year. Fewer than a dozen people carried arms, and media members and curious state employees appeared to outnumber attendees.

The organizer and conductor of the rally, Tim Ravndal, said the rally is about protecting Second Amendment rights by making legislators see and hear how important gun rights are.

A bevy of gun-rights bills are advancing through the Legislature this session, including one to allow guns into prohibited places such as bars and government buildings and another to allow concealed carry in cities without a permit.

Ravndal also said the rally was trying to draw attention to a range of issues protecting freedoms.

Conservative lawmakers streamed out to the rally lectern throughout the day to speak in support of a variety of tea party-backed initiatives, such as federal nullification and eminent domain measures.

The Montana Human Rights Network condemned the rally, saying in a statement that guns around the Capitol do not provide a safe environment for democracy.

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