Aryeh Rohde says he’s been called a gun-crazy racist and a potential shooter for promoting gun rights.
The junior at South Whidbey High School organized a counterprotest last month on Whidbey Island when other students participated in a school walkout over gun violence. He said the principal shut down his protest and told everyone to go back to class.
Rohde was invited to speak at a pro-gun rally Saturday in Olympia, where demonstrators filled the north steps of the Capitol and called for resistance to new gun laws.
“I come out and see people like this and it gives me a lot of inspiration. This feels amazing,” said Rohde, 16.
The rally was a response to student-led efforts to pass stricter gun laws after the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that killed 17 people. It comes one month after the March for Our Lives rallies took place across the country, including in Olympia.
Saturday’s rally, called March for Our Rights, drew about 2,500 people to the Capitol, according to the Washington State Patrol. Many openly carried firearms, which is allowed by state law.
One counterprotester could be seen holding a sign on the steps of the Temple of Justice across from the Capitol steps.
“Why is the only solution they yell for gun control, gun confiscation, gun registration?” said Marty McClendon, chairman of the Pierce County Republican Party. “Instead of defending our constitutional rights to keep and bear arms daily by playing defense, slowly but surely allowing our fundamental rights to erode one law at a time, one bad politician at a time, it’s time to play offense.”
In Washington, students have called on lawmakers to restrict access to semi-automatic rifles. On Friday, a group that promotes gun regulations announced it had proposed a ballot measure that would raise the minimum age to buy semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21 and enact other new restrictions.
Elizabeth Scott, a former state representative now running for state Senate, told the crowd at Saturday’s rally that any new laws were a nonstarter.
“My point is that many of us have reached the point where we don’t care what their next liberty-restricting gun proposal is, we are a flat out no.”
Flipp Todd from Sherwood, Oregon, came to the rally wearing a cowboy hat and bullet-proof vest, with a Colt 1911 pistol on his hip and a large Don’t Tread on Me flag to wave overhead.
He said he feels for the Parkland students and others but doesn’t think responsible gun owners should be silenced in the national debate happening now over guns.
“They’re vocal, but their message is all over the place,” he said. “I have a saying: Emotions are bad decision makers.”