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.
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.