Hundreds of thousands will call for stricter gun control measures at “March For Our Lives” rallies across the country on Saturday.
But in Montana’s state Capitol, counterprotesters are organizing a “March For Our Guns.”
“I love our Second Amendment rights,” 18-year-old Joey Chester says. “I don’t want to see those restricted for law-abiding citizens.”
“March For Our Lives” was organized by students after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. It follows a countrywide student walkout earlier this month.
Other pro-gun groups are also rallying in response to “March For Our Lives” across in the country.
In Utah, counterprotesters are organizing a march dubbed “March Before Our Lives.” On a Facebook event page, they say they plan to march in front of gun control activists. Some attendees say they will bring their guns.
Similar events are also being held in California, Indiana and other states.
Chester is a College Republican slated to speak at the pro-gun rights rally in Helena, Mont. He says organizers expect more than 500 people to attend and other speakers include two high school students and a Republican state legislator.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty big crowd,” he says.
According to the “March For Our Guns” website, it was organized as a response to the “alarmist leftist rhetoric” that wants to take guns away from law-abiding youth. Organizers are encouraging attendees to remain civil and to keep their guns at home.
Montana has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the country, as well as one of the highest firearm death rates in the U.S.
“You can say the rates are what they are,” rally speaker and Republican state Rep. Seth Berglee says. “But way more kids die from drunk driving in high school. They die from texting and driving. They die from depression-related issues.”
Berglee, 32, grew up hunting elk and shooting guns on his family’s ranch in northeastern Montana. He joined a competitive shooting team in the Army and now serves as a reserve police officer.
In 2017, he introduced a bill in the Montana House that would’ve allowed teachers with a concealed weapons permit to carry handguns in schools.
“I have a basic right that’s not granted by society — it’s granted by God — to self-defense,” Berglee said. “I don’t see how people in society can make the argument that they have the right to take a right from me because one person did something bad.”
A group of Helena high school students are planning a “March For Our Lives” at a park about a mile away. Organizer Clara McRae says they are also Second Amendment supporters.
“We don’t want anybody’s constitutional rights taken away,” she says. “But we don’t want those rights to infringe on others’ rights to be able to exist safely in public spaces.”
McRae says her organization, Helena Youth Against Gun Violence, isn’t planning to confront people at the “March For Our Guns.”