BLACKSBURG, Va. – A gun rights advocacy group that used to be regulars at Blacksburg's Stepping Out festival made its voice heard in a different way after it was turned down this year.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League handed out bright orange "Guns Save Lives" stickers to festival attendees Friday.
"This is the First Amendment protecting the Second Amendment," Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave said. "To correctly say it would be, 'Good people with guns save lives.' Guns in themselves are inanimate objects, but we got the message across."
The group had been able to set up a booth at Stepping Out for the past several years, but Van Cleave started planning to use the stickers as a backup plan early on.
"We still applied to the festival because we felt like we still fit in," Van Cleave said. "Then they denied us, and that was about what we were expecting."
The Guns Save Lives stickers received a mixed reaction at the festival. Some attendees put them on in support of the Second Amendment, and others hoped to start a conversation about gun control instead.
"A lot of people look at guns and think, 'Oh, they just kill,' said Todd Spencer, a Roanoke resident who wore one of the group's stickers. "It's not really the guns that are doing it; it's the environment and the upbringing of a lot of the people."
"When, if not now is the time to talk about gun control?" Countered Blacksburg resident Lynn Brammer. "What are we waiting on? How many more deaths do we need to see before we realize we need to come together and talk about this?"
Van Cleave says he's satisfied with how the sticker handout went. The group plans to return with its stickers to Stepping Out when it starts again Saturday.
"We played by the rules and did things the way they wanted," Van Cleave said. "When they didn't give us a booth any more, the rules are gone and now we're just using the First Amendment."