An advertisement for the National Rifle Association that features a spokeswoman calling on the group’s supporters to strike back against protests by the left “with the clenched fist of truth” was the driving motivation for gun-control advocates to protest in downtown Tampa Sunday morning.
Approximately 85 people assembled for the rally organized by Moms Demand Action. Activists met at Curtis Hixon Park at 11 a.m., and then marched to the federal courthouse to speak up for what they call sensible gun control legislation.
“I’m just getting tired waking up and seeing people die,” said Tampa resident Jennifer Hollowell. “These mass slaughters have just become routine. We’re not even shocked anymore when they happen.”
The NRA ad that has provoked such a fury amongst progressives features conservative commentator and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, who blasts the media, schools, Hollywood elites and former president Barack Obama as being the leaders of violent protests against President Donald Trump.
“All to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia,” she says, as black-and-white images of recent protests play in the background. “To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness,” she says in the ad.
“And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage,” she continues. “The only way we stop this, the only we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.”
The ad is a “dog whistle to white supremacists and a call to violence against protestors and specifically the organizers of the women’s march,” said Michelle Gajda, volunteer chapter leader with the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action.
After seeing the video featuring Loesch, Women’s March founder Tamika Mallory wrote a letter to Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president and chief executive, calling on him to remove the video and apologize for it.
In reaction, the NRA then released a second video, calling out Mallory and her letter, while telling the left to “grow up” and stop the protests.
Lisa Perry with the Women’s March St. Pete said she was in Tampa to protest the NRA’s “hateful rhetoric.” She also called out the organization for failing to stand up for Philando Castile, a black man and legal gun owner who was shot in his car after he told the officer he was carrying a licensed firearm in Minnesota last year.
Although polls in Florida and nationally show strong support for universal background checks and other, modest measures to regulate guns, the momentum for years has been on the pro-Second Amendment side in Florida.
However, gun control advocates consider the most recent legislative session to be a success for what didn’t get passed.
“In conjunction with other groups in the state of Florida, we were able to block guns in K-12 schools, guns on college campuses and guns in airports,” says Gajda. “So while we’re playing defense, we feel we’re doing a very good job playing defense.”
She does admit that it would be nice for once for gun control advocates to be on offense.
Hollowell says that the culture in Tallahassee can change if a Democrat is elected governor next year, after two decades of being shut out of the governor’s mansion. She said she hoped that Gwen Graham and the other candidates (Andrew Gillum and Chris King) will see the popular interest in what she calls “sensible gun control” among Democratic voters and use that to energize their campaigns.
“The majority of Americans want to see change,” says Tampa resident Edie Backman.”It’s just a matter of getting past the N.R.A. and their money and their bought politicians.”
After a similar protest in Washington D.C. on Friday, Loesch told the Washington Post that while she was accused of inciting violence against the left, she wondered about Madonna’s comment at the Women’s March in D.C. in January, who said she had “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.”
“If this is a rally where they’re trying to promote unity or raise awareness about something they perceive I or the NRA did wrong, I don’t know if they can do it with a clean slate knowing who the organizers are and what some of the organizers stand for,” Loesch said.