AUSTIN, Texas -- Thousands of gun advocates gathered peacefully Saturday at state capitals around the U.S. to rally against stricter limits on firearms, with demonstrators carrying rifles and pistols in some places while those elsewhere settled for waving hand-scrawled signs or screaming themselves hoarse.
The size of crowds at each location varied -- from dozens of people in South Dakota to 2,000 in New York. Large crowds also turned out in Connecticut, Tennessee and Texas, Utah and Washington state. Some demonstrators in Olympia, Wash., Phoenix, Salem, Ore., and Salt Lake City came with holstered handguns or rifles on their backs. At the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort, attendees gave a special round of applause for "the ladies that are packin'."
Activists promoted the "Guns Across America" rallies primarily through social media. They were being held just after President Obama unveiled a sweeping package of federal gun-control proposals.
The crowd swelled to more than 800 amid balmy temperatures on the steps of the pink-hued Capitol in Austin, where speakers took the microphone under a giant Texas flag with "Independent" stamped across it. Homemade placards read "An Armed Society is a Polite Society," "The Second Amendment Comes from God" and "Hey King O., I'm keeping my guns and my religion."
"The thing that so angers me, and I think so angers you, is that this president is using children as a human shield to advance a very liberal agenda that will do nothing to protect them," said state Rep. Steve Toth, referencing last month's elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Toth, a first-term Republican lawmaker from The Woodlands outside Houston, has introduced legislation banning within Texas any future federal limits on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, though such a measure would violate the U.S. Constitution.
Rallies at statehouses nationwide were organized by Eric Reed, an airline captain from the Houston area who in November started a group called "More Gun Control (equals) More Crime." Its Facebook page has been "liked" by more than 17,000 people.
Texas law allows concealed handgun license-holders to carry firearms anywhere, but Reed said rally-goers shouldn't expose their weapons: "I don't want anyone to get arrested."
A man who identified himself only as "Texas Mob Father" carried a camouflaged assault rifle strapped to his back during the Austin rally, but he was believed to be the only one to display a gun. Radio personality Alan LaFrance told the crowd he brought a Glock 19, but he kept it out of sight.
At the New York state Capitol in Albany, about 2,000 people turned out for a chilly rally, where they chanted "We the People," "USA," and "Freedom." Many carried American flags and "Don't Tread On Me" banners. The event took place four days after Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the nation's toughest assault weapon and magazine restrictions.
Republican Assemblyman Steven McLaughlin said the new law was "abuse of power" by the governor. Some in the crowd carried "Impeach Cuomo" signs. Protester Robert Candea called the restrictions "an outrage against humanity."
About 1,500 people showed up in Olympia, Wash. Former NFL tight end Clint Didier, who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP Senate nomination in the 2010 election, urged the crowd to prepare "for the worst possible predicament'" by stocking up on food, guns, ammunition, communication devices and medicines, The Olympian newspaper reported.