By Rebecca Townsend and Mark A. Lee
A rally in front of U.S. Sen. Dan Coat's office in Downtown Indianapolis on Saturday underscored the emotional tenor of the debate to enact expanded gun control.
About 30 people joined the rally to "shame" Coats following his vote last Wednesday against a measure to expand background checks. Also at the rally were a few counter-protestors, including a man toting an assault rifle.
Coats, a Republican, did not speak to protestors but issued a news release Wednesday underscoring his efforts to insert an amendment to the pending gun bill that "would strengthen criminal gun laws by increasing resources for prosecuting gun trafficking, better enforce the existing background check system and address school safety and mental illness in the criminal justice system."
The effort, he noted, received bi-partisan support, but failed 52-48.
Protestors were not impressed with the amendment, and instead expressed their frustration with members of Congress they feel are beholden to the gun lobby.
Protestor John McCullough said he feels that Coats "votes for the people of the NRA, and not the people who voted for him," while fellow rally participant Jim Smith voiced disappointment that "we have a congress that's for sale É That bothers me as much as anything about this."
Organizing for Action, a nonprofit aligned with President Barack Obama, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an Independent, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a Democrat, organized the event.
A man carrying an assault rifle who refused to give his name, but who later stated he was a licensed dealer, interrupted the protest along with John Levy, who said, "I don't own a gun, and I don't have a permit, but I'm concerned with how our government is encroaching on our civil liberties."
Cameron Wild, who said he has served two months in Afghanistan and has one more month to go, said he felt that the effort for expanded control "disrespects" his uniform "because I fought for our country and I respect gun rights."
But Louis Burgess Jr, who became so upset with the licensed dealer that police officers had to come between them, represented another military man's point of view.
Burgess said he was active duty with the U.S. Army from 1966-1968, stationed in Panama, where he was a Light Weapons Specialist and followed up with an 11-year stint in the National Guard. He said he considered assault weapons to be "highly volatile for any civilian." He is especially frustrated by National Rifle Association insistence that gun control laws are an affront to the second amendment. The first part of the amendment — "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State" — is upheld by the National Guard, the military and law enforcement, he said, adding that the second part — "the right for people to keep and bear Arms" — underscores the need to have sensible gun control laws to protect that right.
The city's escalating homicide rate sets a dramatic backdrop to this debate, as just hours after the rally concluded, Mario Wilson, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who survived tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, died after being shot in the Denny's parking lot on North Michigan Road.
Preliminary numbers from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department indicate that with 36 homicides counted by April 20, homicides in Marion County are up 50 percent over the same period in 2012.
A new Howey Politics Poll released Tuesday showed that 83 percent of respondents supported the effort to expand background checks.