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Flagstaff citizens protest Friends of the NRA fundraiser

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Nearly 100 Flagstaff locals gathered May 5 in protest of the Friends of the National Rifle Association (FOTNRA) holding a fundraising event at the Highland Country Conference Center on West Butler Avenue.

Flagstaff citizens protest Friends of the NRA fundraiser

Protesters gather outside the High Country Conference Center on Butler Avenue to protest the National Rifle Association (NRA) May 5, 2018. Just inside the building was the Northern Arizona Friends of NRA Dinner and Fundraiser, which sparked the protest.

FOTNRA is a grassroots organization established to “secure the Second Amendment and raise money for the shooting sports,” according to the official FOTNRA website.

The fundraiser is “a family-friendly event chock-full of everything from exclusive, limited edition merchandise and firearms to knives, art, jewelry and more,” according to the description of the event on the FOTNRA website.

Money from FOTNRA events contribute to the NRA Foundation, which sponsors firearm education on the local, state and national level.

Jamey Hasapis, one of the organizers of the event, said he was out in protest of the NRA leadership.

“The NRA is using fear mongering and putting money into the pockets of politicians to restrict the passage of common sense gun laws,” said Hasapis.

Hasapis grew up with guns in his home and was very open about the fact that he has friends and family members who own guns and are even members of the National Rifle Association. This relationship with guns has not always been so straight forward, though.

When Hasapis was in high school, he was a member of a soul band. While playing at a Black History Month event, a member of the audience got up on stage and held a gun to his head. Hasapis left the event unharmed but it was “the most frightening event of [his] life.”

While those in the crowd felt strongly about the NRA and the availability of AR-15s to the public, they did not want their message on gun control to be misconstrued.

“Only hunters and police should have guns. I’m not out here to protest all guns, just those that were created to kill other humans. I don’t believe there should be guns in classrooms and there should be background checks to make sure only good people can get guns,” said Julie Bursell.

For over 20 years, Bursell has been an active member of the community, volunteering with both the Flagstaff Police Department (FPD) and Manuel Demiguel Elementary School.

A major concern for Hasapis and many other protestors was the sale of guns and the need for universal and extensive background checks.

In a Gallup poll, it was observed that 67 percent of Americans felt that laws regarding the sale of firearms should be more strict, while only 4 percent felt these laws should be less strict. The remaining 28 percent felt the laws should stay the same.

While dozens crowded the sidewalk along Butler protesting the presence of the fundraiser, one man stood in support of both the fundraiser’s presence and the NRA.

Gabor Kovacs, retired Flagstaff local and Hungarian immigrant, stood behind the line of protesters to voice his opinion that the Second Amendment is the most important one.

“The Second Amendment is the one that protects all of the others. It’s the most fundamental and basic human right,” said Kovacs, “the right to self defense. You use [a gun] to defend your country, your neighborhood and of course your family.”

In his view, any form of gun control is tyranny, which he has had personal experience with growing up in Hungary.

“I was born and raised in a communist country, and I don’t take kindly to tyranny,” Kovacs said.

Mayor Coral Evans was also walking the sidewalk, not only petitioning for the upcoming election, but to advocate for the importance of safe gun handling.

“I’m for responsible gun ownership. Really, the people that are out here today are for responsible gun ownership. With great power,” said Evans, “comes great responsibility.”

Evans is a gun owner herself, and believes that safety and responsibility is key to solving gun violence in the country.

“I have a gun, I own a gun. I come from a military family, my dad was in the Air Force. But I just think we need to be more responsible. I think that’s really what people are asking for. I think if you own a gun, you should know where it is at all times, and it either needs to have a lock or be in a safe,” Evans said.

There was a strong police presence with approximately 30 officers from FPD watching over the event, making sure the protests were peaceful.

There was no need for police intervention and the protests were conducted in a peaceful manner.