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Gun-toting activists rally in Bala Cynwyd Park

About 60 people demonstrated their opposition to a Lower Merion ordinance about who can carry guns in parks.

Gun supporters rallied yesterday in response to an ordinance banning firearms from parks in Lower Merion Township.
Gun supporters rallied yesterday in response to an ordinance banning firearms from parks in Lower Merion Township.Read moreCHANDA JONES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

THE SPECTER of people openly toting guns several yards from a kids' jungle gym isn't something you see every day.

But if Citizens for Liberty's Steve Piotrowski - and about 60 gun supporters who joined him yesterday for a rally at Bala Cynwyd Park - have anything to do with it, it might become a more common sight.

"We're all here because we believe that real patriotism is a will to challenge the government when it is wrong. That's what we are doing here today," Piotrowski, 32, of Lower Providence, told the crowd. "Red America and blue America must finally come together and solve a serious problem, because protecting our children from predators isn't a conservative position or a liberal position. It's a commonsense American position."

With that, the group of mostly men and a handful of women - many of whom had guns strapped to their hips - applauded.

The demonstrators had gathered to protest a Lower Merion Township ordinance that they say is unlawful because it creates a "gun-free zone" in parks.

The ordinance reads: "No person except authorized members of the Police Department shall carry or discharge firearms of any kind in a park without a special permit, unless exempted."

Township commissioners in January, despite the threat of a lawsuit, decided against striking or changing the ordinance, ruling that it does not violate state law.

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, a group that works to reduce gun violence, said the ordinance doesn't technically ban guns from the park. Her group advised its supporters to avoid Bala Cynwyd Park during the rally, calling its organizers - most of whom came from outside the township - "bullies."

Goodman said that many township residents who aren't gun owners and never looked into gun laws were surprised to learn that technically it's legal to carry a licensed firearm in a public park.

"The gun guys, I think, are trying to make it seem as if there's this tangle of regulations, and it's so confusing to be a gun owner, and crossing county lines can be dangerous to them," she said. "When really, it's not."

CeaseFirePA, she added, thinks the pro-gun lobby is using a bill signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett last year that strengthens state pre-emption of local laws to strong-arm municipalities into striking their gun-related ordinances from the books.

"Lower Merion stood firm and said, 'We're not going to do this,' and really educated their people about what was going on here," Goodman said. "Townships across Pennsylvania have been scared by these letters they're getting" threatening lawsuits.

Joshua Prince, a lawyer with the Firearms Industry Consulting Group at yesterday's rally, called on Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman to prosecute anyone involved in passing and upholding the Lower Merion ordinance. He said that if the township keeps the law, a suit is imminent.

"To the taxpayers in Lower Merion, my apologies," he said. "Your elected officials are going to cause your tax rates to go up, because Lower Merion is going to be sued."