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Gun violence vigil, counter-demonstration go off civilly

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Two perspectives on the right to bear arms versus the right to a safe public environment, especially for school-age children – Photos/Roger Bianchini

FRONT ROYAL – A total of nearly 100 people gathered peacefully in the Front Royal Village Commons area Saturday afternoon, March 10, despite several days of sometimes inflammatory social media posts suggesting an armed counter-demonstration to the planned “Vigil and Protest for Victims of Gun Violence”.

As reported by Royal Examiner on Friday, several aspects of the anti-gun violence vigil involving local high school students and the Selah Theater group comprised primarily of area teens were cancelled due to the tone of some gun-rights posts on the “What’s Up Front Royal” Facebook page and the call for anti-vigil demonstrators to show up with open carry firearms.

And while two of the approximate 15 to 25 gun rights advocates did show up with openly-displayed semi-automatic rifles, including an AR-15 like the one used in the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, those demonstrators, Emmy Bossung and Todd Kern, told us their weapons were unloaded and they did not want to create any undue anxiety among the vigil participants gathered to pay homage to gun violence victims. Rather, Bossung and Kern said their appearance with the weapons was intended to illustrate the right of Americans to bear arms within local and federal legal parameters.

Above, Emmy Bossung, far left, and Todd Kern, center, said they came with unloaded semi-automatic rifles to make a point, not intimidate anyone; below, an anti-gun violence participant chats with “new gun laws may not be the answer” advocate Gary Kushner prior to the beginning of Saturday’s dueling demonstration – dialogue is always good.

And it is the idea of strengthening those legal parameters, particularly as they apply to background checks, waiting periods on gun purchases, age, and increased emphasis on mental health parameters as a viable part of background checks that separated the approximately 60 anti-gun violence demonstrators from the 25 to 30 gathered to emphasize their right to bear arms as American citizens.

And there was some civil discussion across those opinion lines and the barricades put in place by Front Royal Police prior to the 1 p.m. start of official anti-gun violence vigil activities. And other than a few isolated yells and some passing motorist horns momentarily drowning out some of the vigil speeches, for the most part the opposing sides remained civil, if separated philosophically.

Sixth Congressional District candidates Jennifer Lewis, Peter Volosin and Charlotte Moore appeared in support of the anti-gun violence vigil, while the county’s three state delegates though invited, did not. Those delegates, Chris Collins (29th), Todd Gilbert (15th) and Michael Webert (18th), Webert particularly, drew the ire of organizers for pro-NRA stances and past votes against gun law reform.

One local teen did speak and another’s essay was read at the anti-gun violence vigil. Madeline Phoenix, 14, read an essay written by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student and shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez; and Ell Phoenix read an essay penned by a local high school student who
elected to remain anonymous in the wake of the sometimes ominously-worded social media posts in recent days.

One the gun violence vigils most emotional moments was when participants went to the microphone at the Gazebo to take turns reading names of the deceased at recent mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14 and at the Las Vegas musical concert on October 1, 2017.

As anti-gun violence advocates supporting stronger laws regarding gun purchases gather within the FRPD fenced in perimeter, anti-new gun legislation advocates gather at the edge of that perimeter.

As Heather Davis kicks off the WC Va. Indivisible anti-gun violence event, participants on both sides of the barricade reflect varying perspectives. Some gun rights advocates, including AR-15-packing Emmy Bossung with ‘Gun Free Zones create victims’ sign carrier below, carried their message around the Vigil Against Gun Violence perimeter – not sure if that made those inside feel safer or not.



Towards the end of the organized WC Va. Indivisible anti-gun violence event one pro-gun rights advocate unveiled a Confederate flag emblazoned with an AR-15 . Anti-gun violence demonstrators took a different view on civil rights, quoting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student survivors’ statement ‘We call BS’, as illustrated here surrounded by photos of the Parkland, Florida high school dead.

With a little support from a friend, teen Madeline Phoenix reads from essay by Parkland, Florida high school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez; below vigil participants line up to read the names of the dead at Parkland, Florida and last year’s Las Vegas concert shootings. Below the honoring-the-dead line that saw 75 names read from those two shootings within the last 6 months, pro-gun rights advocates at the police perimeter and across Chester Street; and one family inside the perimeter’s take on the issue.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. RH2000

    March 12, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    I count sixteen photos. And reports that people behaved themselves. That’s all good. What’s the complaint?

  2. Megan Durham

    March 12, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you for attending the event and writing this article. As one of the vigil participants, I want to say that I did not know the guns belonging to the counter-protesters were unloaded. Regardless of their statements, I believe that the people who openly carried weapons to the counter–protest were simply trying to intimidate vigil participants. Their hostile rhetoric on chat groups succeeded in keeping some young people away. The whole experience made me question why Virginia allows open carry at all, since apparently some people think it is OK to use their second amendment rights to intimidate others who are trying to exercise their first amendment right to free speech. I want to thank the Front Royal police officers who made sure everything stayed calm – their presence was the only reason I felt it was OK to be there.

  3. Dennis Atwood

    March 11, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    Three photos of gun-supporting posters, one of a more gun control poster. THIS is balanced coverage? What happened to the dozens of other photos you took?

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