When Martin Luther King Day and Gun Appreciation Day Come Together

Scenes from a weekend of passionate gun-related rallies across the political spectrum

For Americans of all persuasions, guns were a major theme this Martin Luther King weekend. For those incensed by violence, there were gun-control church sermons. For those who believe in unfettered Second Amendment rights, there were pro-gun rallies. Larry Ward, an organizer of Gun Appreciation Day on January 19, started his week by taking on Al Sharpton on a talk show. Martin Luther King, Ward said, would have approved of Gun Appreciation Day -- the civil rights leader had once tried to get a gun but was denied a permit. Sharpton, outraged, countered that King believed in non-violence and was killed by a bullet.

On Saturday, you had to wait out a two-mile traffic jam to get into a Gonzalez, Louisiana, gun show. In Baton Rouge, more than 200 anti-gun-control activists turned up at the state capital annex at high noon, as part of the national Guns Across America protest. Their message: Weapons are not the problem. If anything, video games and Hollywood movies are to blame for the nation's upsurge in violence. Ben Ernst from Pontchatoula, Louisiana, who held a "Save our Children" sign, explained, "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. That's why we call police. Our schools need to have more police."

Tom Parker, an announcer for a TV show called Freedom Forum on a Lafayette, Louisana, cable network, worries about Obama's recent executive orders. "The bottom line is they are all over-reaching." He doesn't want the government deciding which citizens can own guns worries that medical confidentiality will erode if doctors have to report mentally ill patients.

On Sunday, meanwhile, two New Orleans churches took part in the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath, with hundreds attending services. During a sermon in St. Peter Clavent Church, a priest read out the names of people killed by bullets, starting with Martin Luther King and ending with the children and staff killed at Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

When he asked the audience to call out the names of people lost to gun violence, countless voices rang out, including that of Tirza Williams, who lost her 19 year old cousin Joseph Veal. "It is our job to keep our kids as safe as possible." she said. President Obama's 23 executive orders and a ban on assault weapons are steps in the right direction, she said. "My community doesn't need more guns. Too many lives have been ended with bullets."

Meanwhile, on Monday, five people were shot on New Orleans's MLK Boulevard following a parade honoring Martin Luther King's birthday. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, New Orleans police chief Ronal W. Serpas had this to say: "It's the state of affairs in our nation that young men do not heed the words of Martin Luther King Jr."

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

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