By Phil Trexler
Beacon Journal staff writer
The nation’s debate over stricter background checks on gun purchases pulled into an Akron city park, where speakers advocated for change Wednesday while a countergroup, some armed with rifles, waved an American flag nearby in a peaceful protest.
The “No More Names: National Drive to Reduce Gun Violence” at Grace Park brought out politicians, victims and several dozen supporters of legislation requiring background checks for some firearm purchases.
The 25-state bus tour by the group “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” targets background checks for private sales, such as those that take place routinely at local gun shows, flea markets and on the Internet.
The speakers primarily aimed their remarks at Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who voted against expanding gun-purchase background checks last spring and thus helped strike down the measure.
Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic told the audience that Portman “repeatedly misstates the facts about sensible gun safety measures” and that change is long overdue, as evidenced by the number of mass shootings and other gun-related deaths across the country.
“We actually should have done something a long time ago. But we have a moral imperative to do something right now,” Plusquellic said.
At the corner of North Prospect and Park streets were a countergroup of citizens who support Portman and fear changes would further trample their Second Amendment rights.
Several protesters had unloaded rifles flung over their shoulder as they carried signs in a peaceful counterprotest. The group was not permitted into the park because of their weapons.
Brett Pucillo, a Kent resident and a member of Northeast Ohio Carry, brought his Smith & Wesson AR-15 to Akron in protest of the gun law rally. He said the common criminal would ignore any universal background check laws and that common citizens would be burdened.
He added that the proposed legislation is meaningless without a national registration.
Pucillo further cited statistics released by Portman’s office that contend just 2 percent of criminals obtained their firearm from a gun show or flea market.
He said the expanded background check legislation is political, reactionary and weak.
“It’s a feel-good law, it’s an emotionally based law,” Pucillo said. “They say, ‘How can you not want background checks? How can you not want to prevent gun crimes?’
“We absolutely do. That’s why we want to be armed. We want to protect our children and the community. As it is now, the laws they’re trying to enact are not the answer.”
Gun dealers are now required to perform background checks, but the failed measure would have extended the checks to sellers on the Internet and gun shows.
Since the vote failed in the U.S. Senate, Portman has defended his stance in a series of press releases and statements from staff members opining that newer background check requirements would have “no meaningful impact on the unacceptable level of daily gun violence” in Ohio.
But speakers at the Akron stop disagreed. They said Portman’s vote ran counter to the 83 percent of Ohioans who they say supports comprehensive background checks. They said requiring the checks at gun shows and flea markets is a “common sense” approach to America’s violence crime problem.
Speakers at the hourlong event included Nick Walczak and Nate Mueller, who were injured during the Chardon High School shooting.
Mueller pushed Walczak’s wheelchair toward the podium before the two addressed the audience.
“The only reason why our lives were changed was because of senseless gun violence,” Walczak said. “Background checks could have changed that.”