Gun rights supporters rally near Capitol

Several dozen 2nd Amendment advocates — many with loaded handguns on their hips and rifles dangling from their shoulders — gathered in a Virginia park within view of the U.S. Capitol on Monday, marking a day of protest against what activists called dangerous breaches of the U.S. Constitution.

“It’s paid for in blood and, if necessary, we’ll defend it in blood!” said Bob Wright, speaking of the Constitution, as he and other protesters gathered at Gravelly Point Park, a national park just across the Potomac River from Washington.

Organizers of the “Restore the Constitution” protest said they chose the spot to highlight what they see as unconstitutional gun laws.

A recent law allows gun owners to carry firearms in some national parks, but openly carrying guns is prohibited under the District of Columbia’s strict gun laws. Organizers said it’s the first armed rally in a national park since the law passed.

“We want to get the message across to the other side of the Potomac that we’re tired of the Constitution not being followed,” said organizer Daniel Almond, holding a paperback copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Almond, a 31-year-old former Marine, carried an unloaded AR15 rifle, a bandoleer of loaded rifle magazines and a holstered pistol. He and others wore yellow ribbons across their forearms to indicate their weapons had been checked by volunteers and were in line with laws on ammunition and gun locks.

Hundreds of unarmed advocates rallied on the National Mall across the river in Washington. The crowd near the Washington Monument was dotted with orange stickers that read “Guns save lives.”

Almond said he chose the date to coincide with the anniversary of the “firing of the first shot in the Revolutionary War.” It is also the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168.

He was joined on the grassy lawn in Virginia by prominent figures in the militia movement, including Wright, who is affiliated with the 1st Brigade New Mexico Militia, and Mike Vanderboegh, a founder of the pro-gun Three Percenters, the group recently criticized by President Clinton for stoking extremism.

“We are coming to a fundamental break where people, real people — the guilty and innocent alike — where people are going to be dying for their failure to understand,” Vanderboegh told the group, whose numbers were nearly matched by members of the media. “They start wars, these wannabe tyrants.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.