Written by John Boyle, Asheville Citizen Times
Determined to keep pushing its message that "gun-free zones don't work," the Asheville Tea Party is promoting the First National Gun Appreciation Day on Saturday.
The party drew heavy criticism in December for holding a raffle of a gun similar to the .223-caliber assault weapon used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Twenty students and six school staffers were murdered in the attack.
Now, says Asheville Tea Party Chairwoman Jane Bilello, is not the time to back off their message.
"We absolutely refuse to let the other side dominate the conversation," Bilello said. "Gun-free zones and gun control don't work, and the American people get that."
She cited huge attendance numbers at gun shows since Sandy Hook put gun control on the political map again, including a packed house at a recent gun show at the WNC Agricultural Center.
For Saturday, organizers are "encouraging everyone to patronize their local gun shops, dealers, ranges and gun shows ... ," according to a Tea Party news release.
Bilello said the local Tea Party is promoting participation as part of the National Gun Appreciation Day, the "brainchild" of Larry Ward, a gun ownership advocate. The flier for the national event suggests, "Americans who love their guns and their Second Amendment right to bear arms" will 'demonstrate their passions Chick-fil-A style.'"
That's a reference to last summer's widespread support of the fast-food chain after its leader expressed disapproval of gay marriage.
Bilello said the Tea Party also will use Saturday's event to kick off another gun giveaway raffle, this time for two weapons, a Para TTR and a Sig Sauer handgun. The Para TTR, a .223-caliber assault weapon with a 30-round magazine, is advertised on the Para website as costing $2,397.
Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, said the Gun Appreciation Day move is fairly shrewd politically.
"Right after this happened, it was too soon, too close to the events in Newtown for this," Cooper said. "But now we're getting to the point where it's a policy debate - it's more about the policy than about one or two events."
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