MONTPELIER -- Hundreds of people cheered and waved signs from the steps of the Vermont Statehouse amid snowfall Saturday to protest further restrictions on firearms and hear from legislators and gun rights groups.
Protesters brandished flags and signs reading "Don't assault our weapons" and "Don't tell me what I need to defend my family."
"Millions of good people own these firearms and magazines," said state Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans. "Because bad people do bad things with them is no reason to take them away from us. ... Guns are not the problem."
The rally was the second in a month in Montpelier, and it came a week after roughly 300 people at the Statehouse demonstrated for increased gun regulations. Event organizers said more than 500 people participated in Saturday's rally, while police estimated the crowd at 400.
Vermont is one of four states that allow its residents to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, and protesters Saturday pointed to federal statistics that show Vermont has among the lowest per-capita gun violence rates in the country.
Speakers at the rally criticized legislation introduced by Rep. Linda Waite-Simpson, D-Essex Junction, that would require instant background checks at gun shows, mandate gun safety courses for people carrying concealed firearms and enable local law enforcement officials a greater authority to enforce federal laws.
State and federal laws are already sufficient, said Rep. Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester, who also pointed to the economic benefits of Vermont's current gun laws, including spending by hunters and fishermen and tens of millions of dollars generated in local and state taxes.
Across the street from the rally stood three women who called themselves the "raging grannies." They sang a jingle and smiled when passers-by jeered at them.
"This is a fear-based movement," said one of the women, Joelen Mulvaney, 64, of Barre. "It is understandable that people who are afraid want to protect themselves and they have been taught that the best way to protect themselves is with weaponry."