A rally and seven-mile walk for universal background checks began on Saturday in front of the Calvary Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended and preached during the early years of his seminary studies, and culminated in Media where about 200 supporters gathered at the Providence Friends Meeting House. Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy (DCUSGP) led the march.
As Chester Mayor John Linder and other rally speakers pushed for tighter gun laws, across the street outside the meeting house about 75 gun-rights advocates – many openly carrying firearms — held a counter rally. Both groups came face-to-face at the intersection of Route 252 and Baltimore Pike and the interaction remained peaceful, despite both sides being passionate about their stances.
“We say we need universal background checks in Pennsylvania first and then in every state,” said Terry Rumsey, DCUSGP co-chair. “I think what happened in Chester on Thursday night says it all; 37 bullets sprayed in a place where young people were gathered. One person dead, two injured.”
Braving hot weather, about 150 people representing various gun control organizations including Heeding God’s Call, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, and Women of Strength, marched with residents of Delaware County and Chester City where the 16th gun homicide of the year took place earlier in the week.
“Less than 48 hours ago, a (Chester) family lost a soul of 32 years of life on this earth,” said Linder. “There are no speeches or condolences that can undo that tragedy.”
But “background checks don’t reduce crime,” argued Darren Wolfe, coordinator of the counter rally. “(Their) rally and walk is (saying) we need more background checks to protect us. The reality is background checks don’t work.”
Wolfe said both Chester and Media are subject to the same laws regarding use of guns, yet Chester has a high gun homicide rate while Media does not. He said the stark contrast in crime rates is more a problem with social dynamics than gun access.
“It’s as obvious as the sun in the sky that access to guns is not the issue here. If it were, the two (municipalities) would have the same murder rate. What does make a difference, are the social dynamics,” said Wolfe. “When people feel they are being held down, they tend to be more homicidal and if people feel they can have their honor or their pride without having to resort to violence that influences the murder rate. These are the things that matter; not feel good, useless things like background checks.”
For their part, Media residents witnessing the rally said they were annoyed at seeing people carrying assault rifles and AK-47s to make an argument for gun rights.
“I think it’s a little excessive to have wartime weapons in the middle of everybody’s hometown,” said Chelsea Cain as she enjoyed a beverage with two friends. “I think some of the (protest) signs, personally, are insulting and silly.”
Pro-gun advocates held flags reading, “Liberty or death. Don’t Tread on Me.” Some held another flag with the image of a large automatic weapon with the words, “Come and take it” underneath.
“AK-47s at Starbucks are stupid,” said Matthew Montone, as he looked visibly upset. “You don’t need an AK-47. It’s stupid. I don’t think there’s more to it than that; it’s just stupid. Are we in Afghanistan?”
Lisa DeAntonio, another friend, also felt it was excessive. All three friends said they supported gun rights but thought the counter rally was making the point the wrong way.
“I think as long as you’re following the law; it’s okay, however I think it’s excessive to be standing in the intersection with an assault rifle to prove a point,” said DeAntonio.