KALISPELL — About 200 people gathered Saturday at Kalispell’s Depot Park for a “Rally for Our Rights,” where speakers and gun rights advocates demonstrated in support of gun ownership, and where students called for solutions for protecting schools without resorting to gun control.
The rally, which was student-organized and led, gave voice to those who have felt their right to own guns threatened by the nationwide marches and politicians calling for gun reform after the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. Similar rallies were held around the country Saturday, most of them at state capitals, in response to massive gun-control rallies held after the Parkland shooting. About 35 people staged a pro-gun rally in Helena Saturday.
In Kalispell, attendees carried signs that read “Disarmed citizens are subjects,” and waved yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flags. Some brought their rifles or handguns, which stayed slung across their backs or strapped to their waists throughout the rally.
The rally began with the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, after which Cole Medhus, a sophomore at Glacier High School, spoke about solutions to gun violence that don’t limit gun access.
“I understand the emotion and the outcry by the students of Parkland High School to the U.S. government to fix it. To fix things so no one has to experience these terrible events. By things of course, I mean they want gun control.”
Medhus said it doesn’t make sense to blame the gun for the shooting, but the shooter. He said the United States’ culture is to blame, as it leads to mental health issues and bullying.
“To help fix this cultural issue in the best way possible is to simply work with each other and listen to each other. There is a huge divide between the right and the left in our country. It comes to the point where we just don’t listen to each other, and instead we yell and insult each other, and at the end of it we get nothing done.”
Sharing facts about guns and educating people will keep the government from being able to institute gun control, he said. Throughout the rally, speakers emphasized the importance of being able to defend themselves from the government, and used examples from history to illustrate times when armed forces conquered unarmed citizens.
Grant Miller, a sophomore at Columbia Falls High School, said the Second Amendment, as its language states, is not to be infringed upon, and gun control is a violation of that.
“The liberals, the Democrats, the traitors, whatever you want to call them, they seek to not only infringe on the people’s right to bear arms, many of them now want to simply strip that right away from people,” Miller said. “Little do they know, it won’t be so simple.”
Miller said those in attendance are the faces of a new movement, one that will defend their constitutional rights and fight back against infringement. The only way their guns will be taken, he said to cheers from the crowd, will be “from our cold, dead hands.”
“We as members of this movement and citizens of this great nation, we can no longer stand idly by while the Democrats and the mainstream media push and fight to strip us of our rights,” Miller said. “We must speak, we must yell, show them that we are not a fairy tale and we truly do exist and have a voice, much louder than theirs.”
Some of the students who spoke at the rally expressed frustration with the recent school walkouts and demonstrations, saying they excluded students who support owning guns. Showing support for the Parkland shooting survivors should not require advocating for gun control, they said.
Braxton Shewalter, a senior at Columbia Falls High School, said he helped organize the pro-gun rally after all the school walkouts, which he at first supported.
“At first, I saw it was a way to get out of class. I was for that. Then, I heard it was to memorialize the victims of recent school shootings. I was for that. But then I saw the main message, and it was clear as soon as I saw it: that it was an attack on our God-given freedom, an attack on responsible gun owners, the NRA, Congress, and President Trump. And I was not for that.”
Shewalter organized students at his school to walk out, but in support of the Second Amendment, and he said dozens of students who felt similarly joined him.
Speakers also frequently said their opinions have been left out of the media, and called for supporting independent media outlets. Joey Chester, a freshman at Montana State University and a candidate for House District 63 of the state Legislature, said media coverage of student activism after the Parkland shooting has been one-sided.
“I am a concerned Montanan gun owner,” Chester said. “The liberal media would have you believe that after the tragic Florida school shooting, all young people have become anti-Second Amendment advocates. The bias in the media has become disgustingly out of hand.”
“We will show the media that young people have a voice, and that voice is supporting our rights.”
The reason for the rally, he said, was to ensure a shooting like the one in Parkland never happens again. The best way to prevent school shootings, he said, is with school security: bulletproof windows and doors, armed security guards, and specially trained, armed teachers. Gun-free zones also need to be eradicated, he said, because they’re especially vulnerable to mass shootings.
After student organizers spoke, they opened the microphone to other youth from the rally to speak. Ten-year-old Courtney West stepped up to the microphone and said she hasn’t been feeling safe in school.
“I wish that nobody has to feel that way, because people, they have feelings,” she said. “Some people don’t care about that. And I want USA to have a better place, better people, and that people would stop calling people names and stop saying that they don’t belong here. And we should make a stand.”
Miri’ikai Walter, a Navajo and Washoe healer and sociologist, spoke to the rally about the history of disarmament as it pertains to Native Americans. When Native people were disarmed and unable to defend themselves from the U.S. government, they were put in reservations, and children were taken to boarding schools where teachers “educated our way of life out of them,” Walter said.
“They stripped us of our self reliance, our independence. They gave us false promises of safety, sustenance, and government protections. You'll hear all those things today. They’ll make all those same promises to you.”
Walter said she sought to draw parallels between what happened to Native Americans, and what is happening today, with the threat of disarmament by the government.
“The cruelest act of the U.S. government was the intent of depriving us of our given purpose, of our self reliance, as dependency is simply another word for bondage.”