Easton, Pa., Balances Sportsmanship With Gun Control

People who want stronger gun controls rallied across the country Thursday. One demonstration was in Easton, Pa., a small working class city in the eastern part of the state. The mayor urged locals to pressure lawmakers for tougher laws. But guns are big in Pennsylvania and politicians hoping to restrict them choose their words carefully.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There were dozens of rallies across the nation yesterday, to support a cause that might be losing steam. It's the fight for new gun control laws. President Obama joined family members of recent gun victims at the White House to urge Congress to take action.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now, members of Congress are back home in their districts and many of them are holding events where they can hear from their constituents, so I want everybody who's listening to make yourself heard right now.

GREENE: One place where people made themselves heard yesterday was Easton, Pennsylvania. It's a small city on the eastern edge of that state that's famous for making Crayola crayons. NPR's David Welna sent this report.

DAVID WELNA, HOST:

The town square of Easton is ringed by pawn shops and check cashing agencies. But while Easton may be a bit down, it's hardly out. The crowd that showed up there at yesterday's rally for new gun laws even took the organizers by surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Welcome. (Unintelligible) Look how many people came out on this miserable cold day.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This isn't church. You don't need to (unintelligible).

WELNA: Around 100 people listened as Jose Rosado, mayor of nearby Fountain Hill, chose his words carefully in a region where the gun culture is still strong.

MAYOR JOSE ROSADO: Obviously, this is a political issue. And our gun rights and our gun laws are very political, so I think it's important for me to say to you today, here, that as public official I don't own a gun, but I don't own a gun because I choose not to. But I'll also tell you that I'll support and fight to protect the rights of responsible gun owners to do so.

WELNA: Easton Mayor Sal Panto says there's wide support for universal background checks for all gun sales and limits on the size of ammunition magazines. Why, he asked, has Congress taken so long to get these measures passed into law?

MAYOR SAL PANTO: The demanded a plan. We gave it to them. Now, it's time to (unintelligible) and if they want to vote against it, that's fine, but take the vote. And that's what we're here today to say. We demand action. We demand that you at least put it on the floor for a vote so that we determine who should be elected again in two and six years.

WELNA: Among those applauding was a local entrepreneur named Ryan Carr. He said he owned guns for sport, just as a lot of others do here.

RYAN CARR: Easton's a small town and the periphery is very rural. There's a lot of hunting. There's a lot of game and there's a lot of farming community here where they grew up, as I did, being a responsible young gun owner and learning how to handle weapons properly.

WELNA: On the outskirts of Easton, gunfire can be heard all day long. At the Easton Fish and Game Association's shooting range, retired pipe fitter Bill Nattinger said he'd driven over from New Jersey to do some target practice. He said some laws Congress is now considering make sense.

BILL NATTINGER: Limiting the size of magazines, I mean, I can understand that. Do you really need something with 20, 30, 50 rounds. I mean, that's silly. You know, you're not going out hunting with 30 rounds. That view is not shared, though, by some other gun enthusiasts in the area

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Applesauce. You want something healthy? Applesauce.

WELNA: At the Hellertown diner, the Greek-born owner wears a cap with the letters NRA across the front.

BILL: My name is Basilio Suskogianis, but I go by Bill. It's a lot easier.

WELNA: Bill also openly carries a Luger semi-automatic pistol, loaded with seven rounds on his hip.

BILL: I had the gun on me all day, walk around with a gun, work with a gun. It may not be good for any other reason. I don't want to show that, you know, I have a gun, but I want to show my support towards other people that, you know, are for protecting the right of owning a firearm.

WELNA: He and others at the restaurant scoff at proposed changes in gun laws. They're confident little will come of Congress's efforts, especially now that a quartet of conservative Republicans plans to filibuster the gun legislation the Senate's due to take up 10 days from now. David Welna, NPR News, Easton, Pennsylvania.

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