Pittsburgh’s gun-rights rally was a spectacle of ultra-conservative identity, drowning out its actual message | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh’s gun-rights rally was a spectacle of ultra-conservative identity, drowning out its actual message

The legal backing for gun-rights is strong, but advocates rally was mostly about "national-anthem-standing" and criticizing "the media."

click to enlarge Gun-rights protesters outside of City-County Building in Downtown - CP PHOTO: RYAN DETO
CP photo: Ryan Deto
Gun-rights protesters outside of City-County Building in Downtown
Following the Tree of Life mass shooting, Pittsburgh city leaders were pressured to take action on gun violence. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Pittsburgh City Council came out emphatically to address gun violence by introducing several citywide gun-control bills.

Shortly after, gun-rights activists condemned Pittsburgh officials and vowed to challenge the city rules in court, arguing that they would violate state law if passed. Justin Dillon, who organized a pro-gun rally today, said “I will see you in court,” referring to city leaders.

The rally today outside the City-County building Downtown was supposed to gather support for that effort. About 200 people filled the portico and spilled into the street. Several attendees were carrying guns, wearing clothes related to military service, and holding flags with sayings like “Don’t tread on me.”


But the messaging went beyond Dillon's core message that “these gun-control bills go against state law,” including some well-trodden ultra-conservative rallying cries. There were mentions of standing for the national anthem, claims about how the media is trying to control people, and even bogus assertions that violence is increasing because of video games. There were chants of "USA, USA USA!"

Kelly Ann Pidgeon, who lives just outside Pittsburgh, spoke to the crowd about the rights of gun owners. She also opined about why gun-violence was increasing. “The is the culture of violence in Hollywood,” she said. “Action movies and violence in our video games are affecting our kids.”
Studies have debunked this claim several times over and this theory fails to take into the account that video games and American action movies are enjoyed worldwide, yet the U.S. is the outlier in terms of gun violence.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Lawrence) spoke next. He said Peduto was participating in a “clear violation” when backing the bills, but also referred to Peduto as “the man that calls himself the mayor of Pittsburgh.”

Before that, he rallied the crowd and lauded the protesters for being “flag-waving” and “national-anthem-standing” people. In the past, Bernstine had been critical of Black Lives Matters protesters in St. Louis. In 2017, he quote-tweeted a story about protesters shutting down St. Louis streets and wrote “If anyone EVER tries to stop my car on a highway with negative intentions … I will not stop under any conditions.”


The Pittsburgh pro-gun rally spilled into the streets and blocked one lane of traffic on Grant Avenue.
The biggest name to speak at the protest was viral-internet sensation Kaitlin Bennett.

Bennett tweeted out a picture of herself at her Kent State University graduation with a AR-10 rifle and a graduation cap reading “come and take it,” to call for open carry on campus. She has since become something of a sensation on the far-right, and has been featured in videos for the conspiracy-theory site InfoWars.

At the rally, Bennett didn’t shy away from her far-right, almost comical, reputation. She referred to Peduto as “Mayor Potato Head.” She claimed that rapists and murderers were on Peduto’s side. She said not enough people “fear” gun-rights advocates and that people “don't fear an armed militia.” Earlier in the rally, the crowd held a moment of silence for the 11 Tree of Life victims allegedly killed by Robert Bowers.

Bennett, who lives in Ohio, also eventually went completely off message and said “the media is not your friend, don’t let them control you.” She was being filmed by at least three local TV stations and recording her own speech with her InfoWars microphone.
She even told the crowd to “stop compromising,” on the gun laws, which was a bit perplexing considering state law indicates that the law is likely already on the side of gun-rights activists.

State law says municipalities can’t "in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components." In fact, in 2014, Peduto was wary to enforce a gun-control rule meant to curtail illegal trafficking because the city would “be sued, and under present state law, we will probably lose.”


As The Incline reports, a statewide law would be needed to allow Pittsburgh to pass gun-control laws that wouldn’t be struck down by legal challenges. And unfortunately for Pittsburgh leaders, the state House and state senate are controlled by Republicans, who mostly oppose gun-control bills.

In the end, Dillon and a small cohort had eventually entered the City-County building to attempt to meet with city officials. By then, most of the crowd had gone home.

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