For several hours Saturday, amid the buzz of the downtown Farmer’s Market, Second Amendment enthusiasts hoisted signs, waved American flags and served up slices of “freedom cake” on Jackson Town Square.
“It was a fairly innocuous jamboree of the second amendment,” organizer Robert Benedict said. “It really was a celebration of America and what our Founding Fathers set out to do.”
This is the second summer Benedict has coordinated the gathering. Benedict said the reception to the Second Amendment event in Town Square was positive, receiving mostly honks and thumbs up.
“It’s really to show that this community here in Jackson Hole loves America and supports the rights that we hold so dearly,” he said.
The same weekend at least 31 people died in mass shootings at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday and at a nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio, on Sunday — tragedies that spurred calls for action for stricter gun legislation. According to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, so far 2019 has seen 253 mass shootings (determined as a gun-related incident involving at least four people injured or killed), resulting in 276 deaths and 1,054 injuries.
For some in the community the shootings coinciding with the Town Square gathering struck a chord. Vance Carruth said he was “disturbed right to his core” that the Jackson Hole rally took place almost simultaneously with the shootings.
“The irony, of course, for me was it was happening about the same time as this terrible tragedy was taking place somewhere else,” Carruth said. “It was like, this is Jackson Hole. Somehow that really got to me.”
For Benedict, a naturalized citizen who came from Great Britain, the right to bear arms and the violence in Texas and Ohio aren’t connected. He said his heart goes out to the victims and their families.
“I’m not too sure the two are connected,” Benedict said. “We’re talking about people who unfortunately have committed crimes, and this is a celebration of law-abiding citizens.”
He said access to guns is only one factor to consider, and Hollywood’s glorification of violence, video games and mental illness also should be considered in the wake of shootings.
“There are no law-abiding criminals,” Benedict said. “If people want to get their hands on guns in countries they’re banned, they will ... People will find ways of creating acts of terror regardless of what they can get their hands on.”
Carruth, on the other hand, has seen an urgent need for gun control legislation since the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012.
“I am extremely disappointed in what is going on in Washington right now,” he said. “It’s tearing me up inside. I’ve been sick for days now, inside. I can’t sleep, I can’t do anything. It’s crazy that we should be allowing this kind of thing to go on.”