Kyle Rittenhouse speaks to attendees at a Second Amendment rally in Ionia, Michigan July 19, 2023. (photo: Anna Liz Nichols)
Around 100 people braved the relentless Michigan summer sun Wednesday for a rally in defense of gun rights in Michigan following months of new gun control bills being signed into law and ahead of a full ban on firearms at the state Capitol.
The event, held on a farm in Ionia, 40 minutes northwest from the state Capitol, took the place of the annual Second Amendment March that’s been held on the Capitol lawn for the last decade, as the Advance previously reported.
So far this legislative session, in which Democrats have control of both the state House and Senate for the first time in almost 40 years, lawmakers have passed and gotten Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to sign laws instituting universal background checks for firearm sales in Michigan and require firearms and ammunition to be safely stored away from minors.
In May, alongside gun control advocates, including Michigan State University student Troy Forbush, who survived the Feb. 13 campus shooting, Whitmer signed “red flag” legislation into law that allows judges to order the removal of firearms from individuals that pose a threat to themselves or others.
Now, ahead of the Michigan State Capitol Commission’s plans to implement a full firearms ban on Capitol grounds, there is no Second Amendment gathering scheduled to protest the measure.
“The question is, OK, would anyone even show up if they had to go unarmed?” Second Amendment March, the organization that plans the Capitol march, Founder Skip Coryell said on Wednesday.
Open carry is popular at The Second Amendment March at the Capitol with many attendees bringing long guns each year.
Coryell said it’s not out of the question that the group might try and have an event in September, when the rally typically takes place, but looking around at the turnout for Wednesday’s event, he said he’s “not optimistic” for the future of gun rights in Michigan.
“When you talk to people, conservatives, they’re tired, and they’re worn out,” Coryell said. “They’re sick of fighting. And it’s like, they just want to be left alone and relax. I don’t know if they’re just recharging their batteries and they’re gonna pick up the fight later on or if they’ve just surrendered? I don’t know. I hope they haven’t just surrendered.”
But turnout at the Capitol event has not been good in recent years, Coryell said, with attendance plummeting from up to 1,400 in years past to 100 or 200 in recent years.
Not even big-name speakers could draw a larger crowd Wednesday, including Kyle Rittenhouse, who at 17 years old in 2020 shot and killed two men, wounding a third during the civil unrest in summer 2020 in Kenosha, Wisc.. He asserted he acted in self-defense and was acquitted on homicide charges in 2021.
“Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and her anti-freedom cohorts are hellbent on shredding Second Amendment rights for law-abiding Michiganders,” Rittenhouse told attendees, advising them to work on a local level to change things in Michigan and work against any other gun reforms coming down the pipeline.
Other speakers included Mark McCloskey, joined by his wife, Patricia, who as a couple yelled and pointed guns at protesters during the George Floyd protests in St. Louis, Mo. Mark McCloskey, who unsuccessfully ran in the GOP U.S. Senate primary in Missouri in 2022, told attendees about that day, saying he was defending his home and the whole experience has ruined he and his wife’s lives.
Michigan GOP Co-Chair Malinda Pego was also in attendance, along with several gun rights activists and groups.
Things are looking bleak for movement in Michigan, according to Coryell.
“I’m not optimistic. What I see in the Legislature is they have the seat of power. There’s really nothing that can stop them right now. And they’re not willing to compromise,” Coryell said. “Longterm, 10 to 15 years down the road. Things are like a pendulum. They swing back and forth. It’s all the way to the left right now. It will swing back. Maybe for my kids, but not necessarily for me.”
Jon Rocha of Sons of Liberty PAC, which hosted and organized the event, told the crowd he’s grateful for everyone who came, he saw a lot of familiar faces, notably in militia members who also showed up during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown protests at the Capitol. However, Rocha, a former GOP state House candidate, said the fight for Second Amendment rights needs new people.
“Things have been happening so fast in Lansing and we’ve got to be on top of them,” Rocha told the Advance. “Things are what they are and I’m hoping we get a new governor that will overturn a lot of this legislation … and that’s not going to come until 2026 so we’ve got a large fight and we got to keep letting people know about what’s going on as more gun control laws get out there.”
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