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“March For Life” rally draws a large crowd nationwide, including Wellsville, gallery

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Over one hundred march and rally to end gun violence in America

Second Amendment supporters hold counter protest

By Andrew Harris

First, I should temper this report by saying that I was in part, a host of this event via my affiliation with the Fassett Greenspace. While I was not part of the organization of the rally or march, I am terribly bias on the subject as the father of a 3, 7, and 10 year old. I’m also a gun owner and I think the second amendment is very important to our unique American experiment. But something has to change.

The details of the event will be covered by others, and the text of multiple speeches given by activists will be published throughout the next week as opinion-editorial submissions. On the whole it was a very much like every other rally against gun violence: A march with lots of great signs(see the gallery,) folks from all walks of life, began at Island Park and proceeded throughout the village. The group then assembled at the Fassett Greenspace(which is open to anyone,) and about a half dozen speakers addressed the crowd of over one hundred.

There were some great speakers, sadly under-amplified by a technical issue, ranging from students, teachers, activists, and clergy. The crowd was filled with kids, parents, and many educators. In fact my high school principal, history teacher, English teacher, and art teacher were in the crowd, all now retired.

I didn’t see any elected officials, anyone from law enforcement(besides WPD Officer Kear who was diligent in maintaining a respectful presence,) but I did see the protestors.

The rally in the Fassett Greenspace drew a small group of those who appeared to be opposed to the rally against gun violence. Most of the crowd noticed them and it created a “watch over your shoulder ” feeling for some. Lets face it, the entire issue is about deadly weapons.

For the most part, except for a few loud hollers about “I love my guns,” they were respectful and kept a distance. As much as I appreciated the speeches by those who were advocating for action against gun violence, I wanted to talk to those protesting the event.

I noticed Nancy Reuning, a long time Wellsville gal who many, including myself, greatly admire, had approached the group protesting the rally. Compelled to join that conversation I joined Nancy because I had a burning question for them:

“What things can we do to simply attempt to stop mass shootings in America? What common ground exists in that effort?”

We bantered and questioned each other and debated. The sidewalk debate started to quickly turn into the nuances we tend to get hung up on. Needing to be at the little league field, I demanded we cut to the heart of the matter. The dialogue went like this:

Me: Can we agree that mass killings in the country are a major crisis that we need to find a way to stop?

Protestors: Of course!! We have kids and are just as outraged as you are.

Me: Great, what steps are you willing take as a society to end this scourge ?

Protestors: Well we don’t agree with banning assault weapons, in fact we think all law abiding citizens should be armed and use that as a deterrent against those who don’t obey the law.

Me: Okay, so anyone should be able to buy a weapon and ammunition ? No additional background checks or closing of “gunshow loopholes?”

Protestors: No, we think background checks should be expanded and the ability to buy weapons at gun shows or online without background checks has to end.

Me: Oh wow, that is a large piece of common ground with the people you are protesting. What about red flag laws?

Protestors: We think red flag laws are a great idea but with one detail: If you are found to be falsely reporting or using the red flag laws for malice, the penalties must be severe, mandatory jailtime.

Me: So let me get this straight: You folks who are clearly “pro-gun,” are largely in agreement with those rallying against gun violence?

Protestors: Ya, I guess we are. We don’t think restricting the Second Amendment will do any good at all, law abiding citizens should be able to arm themselves as they see fit. But we do want to make changes in our society and culture that will stop this nightmare. We have kids in school and we are just as sad as you are about the deaths of innocent people in Uvalde and Buffalo and Sandy Hook.

Me: Are you confident that most Americans who share your perspective, which would be a majority of Allegany County, would feel the same?

Protestors: Yes, most Americans agree on those things we think.

Me: So if President Biden and the United States Government passed a law demanding universal background checks, passed a law which closed loopholes and internet sales, and passed a law which created sensible red flag laws; you would not protest that ?

Protestors: No, I don’t think we would. That is action against mass shootings that we could agree with.

That was the overview of a real conversation, Nancy Reuning as my witness. It wasn’t a hostile conversation or anything like what you see on TV or Facebook. We didn’t agree on everything and we debated, trying to give each other proper voice.

After the rally ended I talked to the event organizers and they wondered what had transpired “across the street.” I reported to them the conversation as summarized above. They expected a different report, the standard narrative of MSNBC versus FOX or DNC versus GOP or liberal versus conservative. They were happily surprised.

The perception is that these competing factions and narratives will never come together, we’ll never find consensus on this subject, especially in conservative Allegany County. This rally, and counter rally, proved that is not the reality when you turn off the channel and face-to-face dialogue happens. Pragmatism is expected in our democracy, our system is designed to use opposing views to find the best solution. The opposing views are supposed to come together and work for a middle ground.

In a climate where it seems nothing gets done, no one can agree, and no hope for real change exists I’m reporting that is not true. An anti gun violence rally created a non-violent counter-protest by second amendment disciples: Democracy in action. The middle ground between those opposed views was exposed as a result.

Based on my conversation with the organizers of the rally, they would be over the moon if tomorrow the news was: The United States Government will demand universal background checks, close loopholes that avoid such checks, and create sensible red-flag laws.

Despite the absence of any elected officials, I hope those who read this are reading find it informative. If this rally and dialogue today were lawmakers in action on the floor of Congress, both sides would have been happy and would have felt they made progress for the American people with universal background checks, closed loopholes, and red flag laws.

Stay tuned for the transcripts from the speeches made in hopes of ending this uniquely American carnage. Anyone with an opinion on the subject is welcome to submit a well done, respectful letter to the editor. Let’s all start moving to the middle ground!

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