Class on building AR-15 draws protesters

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MARSHALL, Mich. (WOOD) — A class shows people how to build their own AR-15 rifle.

That is the same military-style assault weapon used in several mass shootings in America.

Organizers say the class, held Tuesday in Marshall, is legal and was planned months ago, long before the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that prompted millions of people to take to the streets over the weekend calling for an end to gun violence through common sense gun laws.

But protesters who came out Tuesday say the timing and the very idea of creating more of these guns is a terrible idea.

The sign in front of VFW Post #4073 that previously invited people to come out to learn to build an AR-15 read, “Blessed are the peacemakers” as the event was underway. About 60 people participated in the first of four three-hour classes to learn how to build a gun from a kit. It is a complicated process because a dismantled AR-15 has close to 200 parts.

Chris Walden, who owns Walden Arms in Battle Creek, teaches the class and sells the parts. He pointed out that all the guns have serial numbers, are registered and are sold only to those who legally can own them.

He said there was never any talk of delaying the class after the massacre in Florida last month that left 17 dead. The shooter used an AR-15.

“There’s really not a good time either way, I think, and so this is the time we selected as a group and we selected it well in advance of the unfortunate school shooting and this is what we decided to do,” Walden said.

He said waiting until there isn’t a mass shooting in America could mean his class would never happen.

“There’s always significant things going on and if we tried to weave that between whatever tragedy and anything else, I’m not sure we’d ever find a good time,” Walden said. “Now’s as good a time as any.”

The post commander of the VFW post, Bill Thick Jr., repeated the rationale of many gun advocates:

“It’s definitely a good weapon. I wish a few irresponsible people, people with bad intent, weren’t using them, misusing them,” Thick said.

Standing across Michigan Street from the VFW post, more than 30 people protested the event. Demonstration organizer W. Jeffrey Wilson, an Albion College professor, argued the last thing needed is more AR-15s being built and put on the street.

“I would say what they’re doing is perfectly legal,” Wilson said. “They’re entitled to do this, they are within their rights. Morally, I have questions about it. And that’s how laws change, when we address the morality of things that are currently legal.”

The protesters carried signs calling for a ban on AR-15s.

“It’s a slap in the face to the kids who have died,” Marshall resident Pam Daume, speaking through tears, said of the class. “We don’t want all their guns, we don’t want the assault rifles, the ones they’re building tonight, those are the ones doing the damage to our kids.”

But the gun advocates say this is a responsible and economical way to get a higher-end AR-15 for about half what it would cost in the store — around $2,000. This is an annual event and organizers plan to be back next year.

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