By Nick HIldebrand
Herald News Editor/Weekends
MERCER COUNTY —
Plans were already in the works for a national day of action to generate support and influence lawmakers to support “common sense” gun legislation before Saturday’s “No Gun Laws” rally in Sharon, but the weekend rally fired up local organizers.
Judy Hines, a retired teacher who has become the de facto leader of a group of progressive activists, signed up for a “Stand in Silence Against Violence” demonstration Thursday in downtown Sharon “so another voice can be heard in the county than that which was heard Saturday.”
The demonstration is set for 4:30 p.m. in a parking lot on Chestnut Street across the street from U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly’s district office. It will serve as a counterpoint to the one held over the weekend by Second Amendment enthusiasts opposed to any new gun control legislation.
The group is unlikely to sway Kelly. The Republican who represents Mercer County is a big supporter of gun rights and sent a representative to speak at Saturday’s event. Hines said she expects no one from Kelly’s office to attend Thursday’s event.
The U.S. Senate is set to vote soon on legislation inspired by the massacre of school children in Newtown, Conn., that supporters say is focused on safety and critics say is a pointless exercise that will do nothing to reduce gun violence.
President Obama’s call for an assault weapons ban and limits on the size of ammunition clips hasn’t garnered much support in Congress, but the Senate is expected to vote on a universal background check that includes sales at gun shows and between individuals.
The rally Thursday is part of a nationwide effort being organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who announced a multi-million dollar campaign this week in support of gun control legislation.
The mayors’ group says its goal is not to take away people’s guns, as foes of the legislation fear, but to educate, discuss and bring an end to gun violence.
Locally, Farrell Mayor Olive McKeithan is involved in the effort, Hines said.
Demonstrators on Thursday are being urged to bring signs with their “personal feelings” about gun violence and to wear green.
In an e-mail, Hines noted that about 200 people turned out Saturday against gun laws: “The larger the crowd, the stronger the message.”
When she was contacted by organizers for the national group, which included former Obama campaign workers, Hines said she was initially wary of holding a rally on Holy Thursday, the day most Christians observe the Last Supper.
“I guess with the significance of Holy Thursday, it’s a good time to stand up for nonviolence,” she said.
Hines said there will be no formal speakers at the rally, which stands in contrast to Saturday’s gun rights events, where state lawmakers voiced their opposition to any new gun laws and Mercer County Sheriff Gary Hartman criticized those he said used the tragedy of Newtown to “advance a political agenda.”