SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 3,000 people braved icy temperatures Saturday to rally against President Barack Obama's gun control efforts, cheering loudly for a proposal to give Utah sole authority to regulate guns in the state.
"The Utah Legislature knows what is best with respect to gun safety in our state," the sponsor of the proposal, Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, told the crowd gathered in front of the Capitol steps.
Greene read part of a letter from the Utah Sheriffs' Association to the president that warned, "no federal official will permitted to descend upon on our constituents and take from them what the Bill of Rights — in particular Amendment 2 — has given them."
The crowd roared a chant of "U-tah, U-tah, U-tah" after Greene read the last line of the sheriffs' association letter telling Obama they had sworn an oath to the U.S. Constitution, "and we are prepared to trade our lives for the preservation of its traditional interpretation."
Greene said he had no doubt the sheriffs would arrest any federal agents attempting to enforce the president's proposed ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and new background checks on private gun purchases, should those become law.
The rally was part of "Guns Across America," a series of pro-firearms events held throughout the nation Saturday.
"We need to stand up, state by state," Rod Steadman, of Taylorsville, said after 90-minute rally.
Wearing a National Rifle Association baseball cap, Steadman said he agreed with Greene and the sheriffs.
His wife, Christie, said it is "important that we not let the big government take away our freedoms."
The Steadmans said they believed federal control over guns could lead to the eventual confiscation of the weapons already owned.
Their concerns were shared by many in the crowd, waving signs and carrying banners, including one from the Utah Shooting Sports Council that pictured an angry-looking Obama waving an assault weapon and saying, "I want your guns."
The council had sent out an email Friday announcing the rally and stating that the president's call for expanded background checks is a way for the federal government to track gun ownership and that "the only purpose for registration is confiscation."
"Make no mistake," the invitation stated, "the gun banners will not be happy until they have gotten rid of all the guns."
Not everyone at the rally opposed the expanded background checks, however.
Beth Robin, who brought her children, 1½-year-old Raiya and 4-year-old Riley, to the rally, said she supported additional background checks. But she said citizens have the right to be armed against government tyranny.
Taking away assault weapons and high-capacity magazines "just leaves us more defenseless," Robin said. "It's our freedom to have it. It's our right to have it, whether we use it or not."
Activist Candace Salima told the crowd the founding fathers didn't give Americans "the right to go out and shoot deer. They gave us the right to be protected against a rogue government."
Salima said opponents of Obama's gun control measures "don't want an armed revolution," but they do want the federal government "to understand they cannot come after our guns because we won't give them up. … This is a battle we cannot lose."
Several people at the rally had assault rifles slung over their shoulders and holstered pistols at their sides.
"It's my right. That's what this rally is about," said Seth Perkins, of Bountiful, who also wore a sash proclaiming, "Legalize Gay."
Perkins, who said he was "a bit more open-minded" than many in the crowd, said he didn't believe the president was coming after his guns.
"I don't think that's quite what he's trying to do," Perkins said.
Jerry McDonald, of Layton, brought his sons, Josh, 15, Caleb, 10, and Elijah, 8, to the rally to give them an opportunity "to stand up for their rights" and see the importance of becoming politically involved.
"I love guns and I love freedom, and I'm a patriot. That's why I'm here," Josh said. His brother, Caleb, labeled the rally "awesome" and said he understood that the president is taking "our gun rights away."
And Elijah explained why guns are needed. "To protect our family," he said.