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About 2,000 people, some toting handguns and rifles, gathered on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol Saturday to support gun owners' rights and to decry firearm regulations proposed by some legislators.

The rally was organized and promoted by several gun-advocacy groups, including the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance and the National Rifle Association. A handful of speakers, including NRA board member Willes Lee, spoke in support of gun ownership.

"I call B.S. on the government … taking our civil rights," Lee told the crowd, to cheers. "The Second Amendment affirms my God-given right of self-defense."

Other speakers included state Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan, state Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, and two Republicans who are running for congressional seats. All urged the crowd to support GOP candidates in November's midterm elections.

Rally attendees booed mentions of Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and state Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who introduced two gun-safety measures that were rejected earlier this week. They jeered mandatory gun registration, chamber limits and universal background checks.

"There's some that don't want to carry a gun on their hip or own a firearm to protect their family, [and] that's fine," said Pete Stauber, who is running for a congressional seat in Minnesota's Eighth District. "But you don't take it away from us defending ourselves, our families and our grandkids."

Several in attendance had handguns holstered to their waists or rifles slung across their backs and chests.

Many hoisted American and "Don't tread on me" flags, and others held signs that read, "Don't target law-abiding gun owners" and "No new gun laws!"

Some dressed in hunting gear and camouflage clothing, while others wore blue "Trump" shirts and red "Make America Great Again" hats. They cheered for President Donald Trump, whom Lee called "the most pro-gun … president in history."

One month ago, an estimated 20,000 people stood on the same steps for the March for Our Lives rally, pleading for legislators to strengthen firearm regulations.

Speakers at that event included students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed in a mass shooting in February.

Lee said that he and other NRA leaders, including Wayne LaPierre, "were heartbroken over the senseless murders" in Parkland, but that gun-control supporters had exploited the shooting. "The 'antis' most recent tactic is to use the un­developed emotions of children to advance their cause," he said.

Earlier in the rally, O'Neill said that she and other legislators supporting gun owners are "concerned for protecting life."

"None of us wants to see an innocent person's life taken away from them," she said. "But taking guns away from law-abiding citizens is not the answer."

Katie Peterson, a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Minnesota, came to the rally carrying a sign and wearing an NRA hat. She said she recently became a gun owner and felt it was important to show up and support the Second Amendment.

Peterson's sign read: "After witnessing and experiencing abuse, I realized, I am my protector."

She said that having a gun would have helped protect her during a domestic sexual assault she experienced.

"I should be able to protect myself as a woman, because I am a target," she said. "This is my right to defend myself."

Peterson added that many of the people pushing for gun-control measures following the Florida shooting are acting "based on feelings," and that "they're not willing to have a conversation" with gun owners.

Nick Fletcher, 36, of Fridley, said his argument in support of gun ownership is much simpler.

"I don't want my rights taken away, any of them," Fletcher said. "I like my guns, and I don't want my rights taken away."

Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753