NRA protest moves to Jus­tice Dept., and a bit of com­mon ground emerges

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - THE DISTRICT BY RACHEL CHASON rachel.chason@wash­post.com

As hun­dreds of pro­test­ers led by Women’s March or­ga­niz­ers gath­ered in front of the Jus­tice Depart­ment on Satur­day morning, a small group of coun­ter­protesters gath­ered on the Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue me­dian to make their voices heard.

Men sported Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion hats and signs declar­ing “free speech is un­der at­tack” and “no ji­had against our free­doms.” They said the pro­test­ers — who had com­pleted a 17-mile march started Fri­day at the NRA’s North­ern Vir­ginia head­quar­ters to de­nounce a con­tro­ver­sial re­cruit­ment video — didn’t re­spect free speech if it chal­lenged their views.

Then, for a few min­utes at least, the me­dian be­came com­mon ground. Paul Jutte, who at­tended the Women’s March with his girl­friend, crossed Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue to join the coun­ter­protesters.

The 28-year-old nurse from Cincin­nati held a sign with an ar­row point­ing to the men that said “Bully.”

But Jutte put down his sign once he started talk­ing with Bob Cam­maroto, a 64-year-old NRA mem­ber and for­mer fed­eral agent from south­ern Mary­land.

Jutte and Cam­maroto, who wore an NRA hat and a red polo, talked about ev­ery­thing from fam­ily to jobs to ho­tels in the area.

They had to raise their voices to hear each other. Nearby, a man who would not give his full name yelled at pro­test­ers giv­ing speeches — as po­lice urged him to stay on the me­dian. A sup­porter of the Women’s March fu­ri­ously shook a tam­bourine in what she said was her at­tempt to stop the coun­ter­protesters from be­ing heard.

Mean­while, Jutte told Cam­maroto that he was en­joy­ing his first trip to Wash­ing­ton. kept talk­ing. Cam­maroto told Jutte about his son, who was born 24 weeks early — “He’s a mir­a­cle,” Cam­maroto said — and is now in the Air Force.

They also talked about the is­sues that had driven the protest.

The death of Phi­lando Castile, a black man shot by a po­lice of­fi­cer af­ter he told the of­fi­cer he was car­ry­ing a li­censed firearm, was “a ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble tragedy,” Cam­maroto said.

Pro­test­ers de­manded to know why the NRA hadn’t done more to de­fend Castile, a law­ful gun owner. Cam­maroto said he didn’t know the an­swer and didn’t have enough in­for­ma­tion to guess.

“There are ra­tio­nal, rea­son­able peo­ple on both sides,” Cam­maroto said.

He said he has been a gun owner his whole life, but he re­spected the rights of peo­ple such as Jutte to protest the NRA. That’s why he chose a sign that said: “The se­cond amend­ment pro­tects the first.”

Brenna O’Brien was one of the ap­prox­i­mately 500 protestThey ers who gath­ered to ex­er­cise that First Amend­ment right, driven by frus­tra­tion with the NRA, which she de­scribed as “an ex­trem­ist lob­by­ing group that is putting our chil­dren in dan­ger.”

O’Brien, the leader of the Chicago chap­ter of Moms De­mand Ac­tion for Gun Sense in Amer­ica, came from the Windy City with her sis­ter for the protest.

She started to cry when she spoke about her two chil­dren, ages 3 and 5.

“They’re why I’m here to­day,” she said. “I don’t want them to have bul­let­proof win­dows in their schools — I want a fu­ture for them that’s free of gun vi­o­lence.”

Ac­tivists from lo­cal and na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions said they had three de­mands for the NRA: Take down a re­cruit­ment video that ac­tivists view as “ir­re­spon­si­ble and dan­ger­ous,” is­sue an apol­ogy for the video, and make a state­ment de­fend­ing the Se­cond Amend­ment rights of Castile.

The video in­cluded a line that said demon­stra­tors “bully and ter­ror­ize the law-abid­ing un­til the only op­tion left is for the po­lice to do their jobs and stop the mad­ness,” which ac­tivists said in­cited vi­o­lence.

Re­flect­ing on why peo­ple on dif­fer­ent sides of the po­lit­i­cal ques­tion of­ten fail to en­gage each other when dis­cussing their vi­sion of the fu­ture, Cam­maroto said: “Crit­i­cal think­ing is hard.”

“It’s the se­cond na­tional deficit,” Jutte in­ter­jected.

“That’s a good one,” Cam­maroto said, nod­ding. “Can I use that?”

Laugh­ing, Jutte told his new friend that he couldn’t take credit for the line.

“Sorry, Bob. I saw that one on a bumper sticker,” he said.

“There are ra­tio­nal, rea­son­able peo­ple on both sides.” Bob Cam­maroto, a Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion mem­ber and for­mer fed­eral agent from Mary­land

PETE MAROVICH FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Sign-car­ry­ing gun rights sup­port­ers as­sem­ble for a coun­ter­protest on Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue in Wash­ing­ton. They were re­spond­ing to a demon­stra­tion at the Jus­tice Depart­ment led by Women’s March or­ga­niz­ers.

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