Hundreds of Bucks County Little League players have unwittingly been caught in the midst of the national gun-rights debate.
With competing gun-related rallies scheduled Saturday at Williamson Park in Morrisville, used by the town's Little League, league officials, at the urging of state police, are moving, rescheduling, or canceling more than 20 games to avoid any potential conflict that might erupt over the emotional issue.
The matter is of particular urgency, since supporters of gun rights say they plan to legally carry guns as part of their rally.
Months ago, a rally to protest gun violence was planned at the park by the Coalition for Peace Action, according to the coalition's executive director, the Rev. Robert Moore. Former Gov. Ed Rendell and State Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D., Bucks) are scheduled to speak at the event.
The counterrally, by supporters of the Pennsylvania Firearms Owners Association (PAFOA), Concerned Guns Owners of Bucks County, and other groups, will be held along the banks of the Delaware River next to the park. Philip Kline, a lawyer and PAFOA supporter, said some attendees would likely be carrying firearms.
Individuals do not need a permit to carry guns openly in Pennsylvania as long as they are purchased legally. (Permits are required for open carrying in Philadelphia.)
Specific plans for Saturday's counterrally are still up in the air, Kline said, because there is no centralized group organizing the efforts.
"It's going to be kind of reactive," he said, adding, "There's no reason to think that there's going to be any violent conflict."
Morrisville Little League president Dan O'Connell said state police contacted him last week and encouraged him to move the games to avoid potential disputes between the rallies.
"They're concerned that we're going to get caught up in the middle of it," he said.
O'Connell, in the process Tuesday of shifting games to other fields and times, said making such arrangements on short notice was difficult.
The games scheduled Saturday involve about 500 children, he said, and other locations in the area, such as Morrisville High School, do not have the same capacity as the park, which has eight usable fields, he said.
"As a group, we're trying to just get a hold of it, from the standpoint of the operation first," he said. "We haven't really had a chance to fully appraise every option."
Moore said that he understood O'Connell's concern, but that his coalition has been planning the rally since March, has spent about $1,000 on the requisite permits and logistics, and has always intended to host a peaceful demonstration. When asked about potentially moving to another location, Moore said, "I just don't think that's at all right or fair.
"We've gone through a lot of effort to get this all in place," he said. "Our part-time Pennsylvania organizer has put in many, many hours, and we jumped through a lot of hoops to get all this in place."
Concerned Gun Owners of Bucks County took issue with the coalition's insisting on holding the rally, saying in a news release Tuesday that the group should postpone the event to allow the Little Leaguers to play.
"Our rally in response," the release read, "was specifically planned along the river and away from the ball fields to avoid disruption of the kids day at the park playing baseball, which is as American as apple pie and firearms. 'Peace Coalition,' the ball is in your court."
The coalition subsequently released a statement Tuesday reiterating its plan to hold the rally while urging the counter-protesters to cancel their plans.
Rendell, who was unaware of the Little League disruption when reached by phone Tuesday, said he hoped a compromise could be reached to allow games to be played during the rallies. "There's got to be a way to do both," he said.
O'Connell said he could not ignore the recommendation by state police to move the games, even if the chance was slim that a confrontation between the groups could get out of hand.
As for the issue of gun control that will overtake the fields, the Little League official said that was not his concern.
"I believe the debate is something that's necessary and should happen," he said. "But we have no position in it other than to say, 'Have it, but hold it somewhere that won't be hosting 500 kids.' "
or email@example.com, or follow