Before an estimated 300-plus people, state and local officials proclaimed their ardent support for the right to bear arms.
Citing the long history of armed citizenry and explaining why this right is key to every other Constitutional right, their remarks elicited claps, cheers, and whistles from the attendees who stood on a hillside outside of Tyler's Lock and Load Indoor Shooting Range on Loop 323.
JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America — We the People and organizer of the Tyler gun appreciation day, said it was her desire to give East Texans the opportunity to hear from their elected officials.
As the opening speaker for the event, she held up a copy of the U.S. Constitution and spoke of its importance as the law of the land. She said the survival of the document rests in the hands of the people.
“The Second Amendment is not about hunting …” Mrs. Fleming said. “The Second Amendment is about liberty and protecting that liberty. And I want you to know that every amendment, every right in this document rests on we the people protecting the Second Amendment.”
Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said he has been a gun owner for most of his life and plans to keep it that way.
He said his 22 years of working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives served to educate him on what's being taken away from Americans.
“We're not going to bow down to the edict coming out of Washington, D.C., when it's against the Second Amendment (of the) Constitution,” he said.
Smith said the firearms issue is better left to each state to decide rather than the federal government.
Eltife said an honest debate about the issue must be had, “not backroom meetings with two or three people and an executive order.”
“That is not how we debate in this country,” he said. “If they will allow Congress to do their job with transparency and public hearings and let America voice its opinion, I promise you, we will win this debate.”
He called for the focus to shift to the entertainment industry, and the violence portrayed in movies and video games. In addition, he said the state and nation must make mental illness its No. 1 focus.
“We do not properly fund mental illness in our state and we don't properly fund mental illness in this country …” he said. “If we want to focus on the problems of this country, let's help those with mental illness. That will help solve our problems, not punishing law abiding citizens.”
State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, said humans are born sinful and into an imperfect world, so this side of heaven, there will be people who suffer from mental illness and have evil in their hearts.
He said mankind needs a Savior, the church and the appropriate kind of help to address these issues.
“The left will lead the way to stricter gun rights, but they won't let us lead our children in prayer in schools,” he said.
Limiting people's freedom is not the answer to gun violence, he said.
Jason Wright, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's East Texas director, read a letter from Cruz. In the letter, Cruz wrote that he is fully committed to protecting Americans' right to keep and bear arms.
He criticized the president for “trying to exploit this tragic murder of children as an excuse to push his own extreme anti-gun agenda.”
“None of these proposals would have stopped the massacre at Newtown, but they would restrict the constitutional rights of every American,” Cruz wrote. “We should use every available means to deter and to punish mass murderers, but the federal government should not be trying to ban gun ownership for law-abiding Americans.”
In addition to these messages, Ms. Fleming read letters of support from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, and state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola.
Leah Woodruff, 31, of Tyler, and Keith Pyron, 55, were among the many in attendance. The two are part of the Texas Nationalist Movement.
Ms. Woodruff, who held a blue flag proclaiming Texas independence, said the federal government is imposing on citizens' rights.
“To me if they are going to go against the Second Amendment, they are going to go against all the amendments,” she said.
Van resident Ken Hilton, 53, said he's lived overseas and seen what happens when people don't have the right to bear arms. He said ultimately the solution to these types of mass shootings is a moral one.
“The heart of man needs to be changed,” said Hilton, who works at Mercy Ships. “That's only by Jesus Christ.”
Trent Jackson, 33, a lab technician from Tyler, said he sees all these politicians trying to pass more laws, but none of them are going to prevent another massacre like that at Sandy Hook.
He said the way he sees it, the nation should want to get as many “good people with guns as possible.”