CHICAGO Angered and afraid that President Barack Obama's proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are a ploy to strip them of their right to own weapons, pro-gun activists plan to rally across America on Saturday.
Using Facebook and other social media, a group called Guns Across America plans rallies in 49 states, mostly at state capitols and all at "high noon" local time.
"There is no question in my mind that if the federal government could get away with it they would keep passing gun laws until the Second Amendment has gone," said Eric Reed, an airline pilot in Texas who launched the group. "We as a people have to stand together on this."
The contentious debate over American gun rights was revived in December when a gunman used an assault weapon to kill 20 young school children in Newtown, Connecticut.
In the wake of the mass killing, Obama and gun control advocates have begun a push for an assault weapon ban. Gun control advocates say American civilians have no justifiable need for assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.
The reaction has been fierce from gun supporters such as the National Rifle Association, who have long argued that their right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Reed, 38, said he had an epiphany on December 14 after hearing President Obama talk about gun control on the day of the massacre at Sandy Hook.
"I thought if all American gun owners and freedom lovers could come out on the day, it would send a strong message to Washington," he said.
Reed will attend an event in Austin, Texas, whose speakers will include the head of the Waco Tea Party. He said the only state with no organizer for a rally is Alaska.
As of Friday afternoon, the national Facebook page for Guns Across America listed more than 18,000 people who have confirmed they would attend events.
Don Dobyns, 56, a former police office who is organizing an event outside Colorado's capitol building in Denver, said the last estimate he had was that 1,500 people would attend on Saturday.
"But now I don't have a clue because this has exploded," he said. "I can't even keep up with the emails and phone calls."
"A lot of people are afraid that this is nothing more than a power grab by the government."
In Idaho, Russell Thruston, 27, said that when he spotted the Guns Across America Facebook page two weeks ago, he "watched it for a few days."
"When no one volunteered to organize an event in Boise, I thought 'why not me?,'" said Thruston, an electrician, who added that 384 people so far had confirmed on the state event's Facebook page that they would attend. "Gun control is a very slippery slope that we need to avoid."
While Guns Across America has the hallmarks of a grassroots effort, Reed and other organizers say they are unpaid volunteers, a Washington-based Republican consulting firm called Political Media has launched Gun Appreciation Day.
The Washington-based group also uses social media, and its Facebook page includes a number of statewide events, plus rallies at smaller venues including the Montgomery County courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
(Reporting By Nick Carey; Editing by Neil Stempleman)