A Friday rally against gun control at the state capitol drew less than a third of the crowd organizers expected — but drew them from across party lines.
Though organizers from the Tacoma Narrows Tea Party and 2nd Defenders expected 1500 to attend, they later estimated that only 300 to 400 turned up. Still, the crowd that did arrive came from around the state, and included a diversity not usually associated with an issue broadly portrayed as right-wing and white-bread.
Mimi DeGeeter stood toward the back Friday with a nose ring and a shock of bright blue hair peeking out from beneath a snug white cap. On her hip was a holstered black handgun.
"This is the first protest I've been to where I haven't had a gas mask on," DeGeeter said. "It's weird."
DeGeeter, who came with her husband, Jason, said she finds herself ideologically between the two parties. On the one hand, the couple is pro-choice, supports marriage equality and is generally anti-war — stances typically associated with America's left. On the other hand, Jason said, they are strong supporters of gun rights and personal gun ownership.
"There should be no gun control. Gun control means using both hands," he said. But, he acknowledged, "We're probably the only people here who voted for Obama."
While Mimi felt generally welcomed at the event, she said she also was aware her views on some issues set her apart. "I feel like if I were to stand up there and say I go shooting with my gay friends — if there wasn't a gun involved — some of these people wouldn't be as supportive."
As the crowd thinned, five people walked up who stood out as much as the DeGeeters, if not more.
Rovelle Brown, Stephan Holmes, a woman named Napua, and another pair, who did not want to give their names, stood at the back of the crowd. Both in baggy pants, Brown sported thick dreadlocks beneath a black bandana; tattooed under Holmes' eye were a series of teardrops.
While many at the event carried rifles or full-sized shotguns, Brown, Holmes and Napua also stood out for their armament: Brown carried two large pistols, one in his hand, one tucked into his pants, while Holmes carried a compact, stockless weapon with a banana clip and Napua a black pump-action shotgun with a pistol grip. While others carried their weapons slung across their backs, Holmes and Napua carried theirs in their hands, or casually over their shoulders.
"Was it unnerving at first? Yes." Holmes said of arriving at the mostly-white event as a young black man. But that feeling quickly faded. "We're all here for the same purpose."
That purpose, Brown said, was to protest in support of the right to bear arms, which Brown said he keeps not only to protect his family, but also to defend against tyranny — a real possibility, he said, noting that police forces already use drone aircraft to surveil American cities. Many others at the event voiced the same feelings.
From Tacoma, Brown and Napua both mentioned their work running an after-school program to keep kids off the streets. But, Brown said, the reality of the streets is that one that has to be ready to protect his family.
"The criminal," Brown said when asked about gun control, "isn't going to put down his gun."
Dressed in camouflage military fatigues, Navy veteran Orion Webster manned a table displaying a shotgun, pistol, assault rifle, and a sniper rifle at the event. A member of both the Tea Party and the NRA, Webster said the event was one of the most diverse he had been to.
After the rally, a small group stood around Webster's table. At one point Webster loudly announced that anybody who had voted for Obama was a fool. One of the group, Nate Hunter, said that he had voted for the Democrat.
"You're serious?" Webster asked incredulously.
"I'd rather Obama than Romney," Hunter replied.
Webster started to object, and tension in the group seemed on the verge of rising — until Webster said, with a laugh, "You're crazy."
Hunter, then the rest of the group, laughed too.
The rally came on the heels of the introduction last week of a package of gun control bills by Senate Democrats. While others have already been and will likely continue to be introduced, Senate Democrats at a Wednesday meeting chose six to be their top gun control priorities during the session. (See "A Magazine of Options")
The bills focus more on securing guns already in circulation than on restricting weapon sales. Notably, the priority six do not include an assault weapons ban or a ban on large capacity magazines. Instead, three of the bills tighten laws around the availability of guns to people found mentally incompetent at trial and two focus on gun storage. The sixth calls for universal background checks.
Five of the bills have so far been introduced; the sixth is expected early next week from Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle.
Speaking at the event, Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said she was confident her party could block any traditional gun control measures, and that she thought addressing mental health issues would be a better strategy to reduce gun violence.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, similarly embraced mental health legislation as one solution to gun violence, but was cagey as to whether that meant new funding for the mental health system. Instead, Tom said his priority was rearranging money already dedicated to the sector for better results.