When the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance rallies on Saturday in support of gun rights, it’ll be about more than a one-day event.
Founder Greg Pruett wants to get the attention of conservative Idahoans who believe this state’s gun rights are secure, he said. And, he wants to build the sort of activism on the right that the left has fine-tuned through years of political protests.
“There are hundreds of people coming in from North Idaho, from Washington, Oregon, Utah. (I tell people), ‘Make this the one time in your life that you come to Boise,’” Pruett said.
He anticipates a crowd of 2,000 to 3,000 at the rally, the largest gathering his group has hosted since its inception in 2012. The rally will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday at Fort Boise before attendees march to the Capitol. There, speakers including Emmett resident and anti-government activist Ammon Bundy will address the crowd on various topics relating to the Second Amendment.
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The gathering is meant as a response to the March For Our Lives protests that occurred around the nation (and in Boise) in March, one month after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.
“Obviously, there’s some disconnect in the time,” Pruett said.
But he feels there was no ideal time for the gathering. He didn’t want to host it in summer, he said — too many people have travel plans and children to keep track of. In addition, Pruett said, he wasn’t sure he could put together an effective rally in a short period of time. So he scheduled the rally six months out, hoping the gap wouldn’t hurt turnout.
“People who are more conservative aren’t as good at rallies as the left,” Pruett said. “The left is very good about activism.”
Last year, NPR reported that Donald Trump’s election has served as a catalyst for more activism on both ends of the political spectrum — though more on the left than the right. Before then, the tea party movement is perhaps one of the only recent examples of similar conservative protests that gained speed in Idaho, said Todd Shallat, a former Boise State University history and urban studies professor.
“I think what happens in this town, since the left is smaller in numbers, they’re united against a common foe,” Shallat said.
“A lot of conservative crowds, it is hard to get them out there, for whatever reason,” Parker said.
One possibility, Parker said, is that conservatives in deeply red Idaho feel like they can “rest on their laurels” when it comes to legislation on issues such as gun control.
“I think a lot of the conservatives in Idaho think, ‘(Gun control laws) won’t happen in Idaho.’ We know that isn’t the case,” Parker said.
Pruett is equally wary. Aside from serving as a “counterpoint” to March For Our Lives, Pruett said he wants the rally to be a time to remind Idahoans to stay vigilant about state gun rights.
“Idaho is one of the most gun-friendly states in the country,” he said. “Washington, Oregon, Nevada — they all used to be the same.”
But as those states’ population centers grew, Pruett said, that changed. “Red flag” laws in Washington and Oregon make it legal for police to temporarily remove firearms from anyone they believe is a potential danger to themselves or others. Idaho’s explosive growth has him worried that the Gem State will see the same fate.
“We have a lot of people moving here, and as that continues, that fight is coming,” he said. “Gun owners are a little apathetic right now, I think. Despite Idaho’s very progressive laws now, that can go away very quickly.”
His goal now is to continue to stir up grass-roots support across the state, much in the same way that liberal organizers have. And rallies aren’t the only piece.
“Rallies don’t accomplish anything, legislatively,” Pruett said.
Once a regular at the Capitol building, Pruett realized he could accomplish much more by asking other Idahoans to knock on legislators’ doors, whether literally or figuratively. Instead of acting as a single lobbyist, he mobilized hundreds.
Recently, Pruett has taken to teaching classes on “confrontational conservative action.” He meets with a small group of individuals and speaks on topics like social media activism and holding politicians accountable.
“Conservatives don’t do that, and conservative groups don’t do that. You’ve got to be confrontational — but not in a mean, nasty way,” Pruett said.
Both he and Parker hope their rallies and other efforts will become commonplace.
“It’s definitely worth trying to change (conservative attitudes on protesting). And it is changing,” Parker said.
Pruett would like to see the conversation around guns change, too: less emotion, more discussion, he said. He is hopeful that Idahoans will see the rally through a less polarizing lens.
“The ideal perception (of the event) is, ‘Here’s a grass-roots gun rights group, and we don’t compromise on our issues,’” he said.
This article was written as part of a focus on southwest Idaho’s cultural and political diversity. Contact reporter Nicole Blanchard at 208-377-6410, or follow her on Twitter: @NMBlanchard