CONCORD, N.H. — An immigration debate is raging and a budget crisis looms in Congress, but the conservative activists gathered outside the New Hampshire Statehouse had just one thing on their minds: guns.
“The Second Amendment is there to protect us from losing the rest of them,” said Adam Brisebois, 34, of Hudson, who cradled his 3-year-old daughter on his right shoulder and a rifle on the left. “If we don’t fight, we’ll lose our rights.”
Thursday’s rally, organized by tea party leaders, drew nearly 500 people, many of them waving signs and carrying loaded weapons, to the state capital. Conservative leaders elsewhere report a wave of similar protests as grass-roots activists from Florida to Colorado seize on a new rallying cry for a tea party movement, which is trying to recover from a painful 2012 election season.
Many activists aren’t happy with the GOP’s sudden embrace of more lenient immigration proposals and they’re monitoring the approaching congressional deadline to avoid massive cuts to military programs. But for now at least, the debate over guns and the perceived threat of losing them tops their list.
It’s an “organic” movement with little coordination from national conservative organizations, according to Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express. “It’s happening by itself,” she said.
It doesn’t matter that neither President Barack Obama nor congressional Democrats are calling for a wholesale repeal of gun rights. Tea partyers are enraged by the possibility of any erosion of the Second Amendment’s “right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
The gun control debate in Washington took center stage after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre in December, when a gunman used a semi-automatic assault rifle to kill 26 people, 20 of them children. The Obama administration and congressional Democrats have promised to make gun restrictions a legislative priority.