As many as 125 people turned out on the Indiana County Court House lawn and steps Friday afternoon to support the idea of an ordinance that would prohibit the county from taking part in, or spending public funds on, any restriction of firearms that would violate the Second Amendment.
“What we need to do as a community is come to these events,” said Rob Sheesley, an Indiana Countian who was elected last month as a delegate to the Republican National Convention.
“It is awesome to see this many patriots gathered together,” said Indiana County Republican Committee Chairman Gilbert Woodley.
Many had guns. Many had signs. Some had both, as they walked from North Fourth Street along Philadelphia Street to the courthouse.
Led by organizer Deborah Shreckengost, they had a message for the county board of commissioners and what she called “a statement of support that has no legal backing”: the April 8 resolution passed 2-0 by the board to reject any unconstitutional efforts to control firearm ownership.
“Do any of you feel represented?” she asked. “No” was their response.
“Is it time to defund the commissioners?” she asked. “Yes,” they responded.
From what was posted after the hour-long march and demonstration, there already may have been progress on getting such an ordinance. Organizers said Commissioner Mike Keith has requested a meeting.
“Maybe our voices have been heard,” a poster responded shortly after the demonstration ended. “We’ll know next week. I will keep you posted.”
Keith and Commissioner Robin Gorman voted for the resolution while Commissioner Sherene Hess abstained.
Gorman declined an invitation to attend the rally, citing “personal matters.”
One speaker came from Pittsburgh at the request of organizers for Friday’s event.
“Thank you for not wearing masks,” Mat G. Simmons told the group. “We are responsible for our health.”
His LinkedIn page describes him as a “top leading sales trainer and business coach and founder/co-founder of seven privately-held companies.” He said many of his real estate businesses had been closed because of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 restrictions.
He led an April 20 demonstration in downtown Pittsburgh against business closures and stay-at-home orders issued in March by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Some county and state officials did attend, including Sheriff Robert Fyock — who was visibly moved when someone in the audience said, “Rest in peace, Bak,” referring to his late K-9 deputy. He pledged, “as long as I am sheriff in Indiana County that right (to bear arms) is not going to be taken away from us.”
District Attorney Robert Manzi told the gathering to make sure candidates in the fall “are supporting what you support.” Citing a court schedule that has included 41 trials in three months, Manzi said, “we have to make sure we are protected from those who would do us harm.”
State Rep. Jim Struzzi and Sen. Joe Pittman, both R-Indiana, also spoke. Struzzi said he has been told he should not stir up trouble about the Second Amendment, but added, sarcastically, “I guess they’re not going to shut down our businesses. I guess they’re not going to require us to wear masks, either.”
Referring to events in another state, Pittman said, “we in Pennsylvania are one election cycle from becoming the Commonwealth of Virginia,” where Democrats now control both houses of the state Legislature as well as the governor’s office.
Virginia’s General Assembly has passed a slate of what Gov. Ralph Northam termed “common-sense” gun control measures. In response, many of Virginia’s counties and independent cities passed “Second Amendment sanctuary” measures, resolutions that reportedly are largely symbolic and lack the force of law.
Among those passing such resolutions was Virginia’s largest city, Virginia Beach, with nearly 450,000 inhabitants.
In Pennsylvania, Pittman said, “we in the Legislature now are your firewall. Jim Struzzi and I are your last line of defense.”
The Second Amendment Sanctuary demonstration coincided with an Indiana County Republican Committee activity about a block away. The GOP offered bottled water for those attending.
Woodley, Sheesley and regional GOP director Louis Focht all spoke on behalf of a fall ballot led by President Donald Trump but, Pittman said, “Donald Trump can’t do it alone.”
They urged participants to ask their friends to register to vote. Woodley said “everyone of us know” someone who hasn’t registered, “or don’t realize that their party has left them.”