People brandishing their guns in a so-called "open-carry" rally gathered at Hunt National Park in Virginia today for the Restore the Constitution rally. From there they drove in a convoy to Gravelly Park in Alexandria, Virginia. According to the Washington Post, today’s rally is the first gathering in American history of protesters who will be carrying their guns in a national park. The Associated Press estimates 75 people were in attendance. This morning, NPR reported the findings of a Pew study that showed that just 22 percent of Americans say they trust the government, a near-historic low. Daniel Almond, an Iraq war veteran who works as a real estate agent today, is one of the main organizers of the Restore the Constitution rally. Loaded pistols are allowed in national parks, as long as they’re in a holster, but rifles must be unloaded and kept slung behind protesters’ backs. Almond will be carrying both today, and took to his blog to invite participants to do the same:
[F]or those of you with the guts to exercise your First and Second Amendment rights at this event and the common sense to understand the rules, you will depart the event at the end of the day and go back to your hometowns with a unique, hands-on kind of credibility that only comes from first hand experience.
He wants to underscore his Second Amendment rights, but also remind the federal government of his unhappiness with health care reform, which he sees as unconstitutional. The rally’s agenda puts forth a vague but forceful anti-government message. Organizers give little credit to President Obama, who signed the law in May of 2009 that allowed people to carry weapons into national parks. Today is also the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing organized by Timothy McVeigh that killed 168 people. President Bill Clinton took the occasion to caution Americans never to confuse their frustration with elected officials and anti-government anger with the right to commit violence, or incite others to similar acts. He wrote in the NY Times this weekend:
Americans have more freedom and broader rights than citizens of almost any other nation in the world, including the capacity to criticize their government and their elected officials. But we do not have the right to resort to violence — or the threat of violence — when we don’t get our way. Our founders constructed a system of government so that reason could prevail over fear. Oklahoma City proved once again that without the law there is no freedom.
His message seems as much directed at the Daniel Almond’s of the world as it is at the members of Congress and television commentators on cable television networks who willfully encourage Americans to rise up violently against their public officials. Analysts say the Pew study numbers reflect the confluence of several factors: the unrelenting economic recession, anger with D.C. partisan politics and Congress as a whole, who dragged on the health care debate for more than a year. The numbers, which dip toward unprecedented lows, are still not as low as they were during President George W. Bush’s last months in office. And while Americans aren’t loving Obama much these days, they trust the president much more than they do Congress:
While job ratings for the Obama administration are mostly negative, they are much more positive than the ratings for Congress; 40% say the administration does an excellent or good job while just 17% say the same about Congress.