More than 200 gun control advocates rallied Saturday in downtown Atlanta, joined by the city’s U.S. Rep. John Lewis in what they said was an effort to counter the annual convention happening blocks away for the National Rifle Association.
The protest was smaller than organizers had expected, but those who attended said it did not dim their passion. It was the second NRA-related protest in as many days in downtown’s Woodruff Park, where on Friday a couple hundred people staged a “die-in” before joining others in a protest at the convention site.
“I must say to the NRA that you are not welcome here in the 5th District, you are not welcome here in Atlanta,” Lewis told a cheering crowd, declining to say President Donald Trump’s name out loud while referencing the president’s visit Friday to address the NRA conference.
“We need to make our cities, our states, our neighborhoods free of gun violence,” said Lewis, who has traded barbs with Trump on social media. “Sometimes you have to get angry, you have to have a sense of righteous indignation. Well, I have it. I’m fired up.”
The NRA, a powerful political advocate for gun rights, has also been a formidable opponent of gun control laws and has advocated for policies that include national reciprocity among states for people who have a weapons carry license.
More than 80,000 people were expected to attend the convention, which is the NRA’s showcase event for the year and also features hundreds of exhibitors. Trump’s speech was the first time since Ronald Reagan that a sitting president has attended the gathering, a pivotal moment for the group after it put about $30 million behind his presidential campaign.
Many of those who attended Saturday’s rally said that kind of high-stakes backing — and Trump’s election — motivated them to be more vocal.
“I just feel very hopeless about the gun situation and feel like we have to say something,” said Eleanor Wade, 68, of Austell. “It’s like his presidency flipped the switch.”
The gathering also came at a fraught time for Georgia advocates, who have spent the past several weeks lobbying Gov. Nathan Deal over a measure that would allow guns onto any campus in the state’s public college and university system.
State lawmakers passed House Bill 280 earlier this year after compromising on several exemptions sought by the governor, including a provision that would continue to ban guns from places such as campus day care centers. Deal, who vetoed a similar measure last year, has said he has not decided whether to sign the bill this year. He has until May 9 to decide.
Twelve-year-old Hope Holloway of east Cobb County said Saturday that she hopes to someday attend nearby Georgia Tech. Her parents, however, said that if Deal signs the measure, they would not send her to any public university in Georgia.
“It wouldn’t be a choice,” said her father, Allen Holloway.
For Marietta mom Lucia McBath, both the weekend protests and Deal’s pending decision represent the culmination of work that for some advocates started with personal tragedy. In McBath’s case, her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was killed after he was shot in the parking lot of a Florida convenience store during a 2012 argument over loud music.
She has talked often about how her son’s death, while devastating, also galvanized her into action. She now works with Everytown for Gun Safety, a national gun control group that’s active in Georgia and organized Saturday’s rally. As a member of the Everytown Survivor Network, she travels across the country speaking on the issue. She also spoke last year at the Democratic National Convention.
“We are waiting patiently on Governor Deal,” she said Saturday, before she joined Lewis on the stage. “I’m here along with all the other activists, community leaders, we’ve got legislators, we’ve got gun owners, we’ve got concerned citizens and most definitely moms to send a very strong message to the NRA leadership that we’re not going to stand by and watch them push this extremist agenda … specifically in the state I live in here in Georgia but nationwide.”
Staff writer Helena Oliviero contributed to this article.