Far from the Sandy Hook school shooting site or the political battle being waged in Washington, more than 500 Minnesotans gathered on Saturday on the steps of the State Capitol in St. Paul to take a stand against stricter gun control. Theirs was among dozens of similar rallies at state capitals from Austin to Albany just days after President Obama unveiled a package of gun-control proposals.

Carrying American flags, signs touting the Second Amendment and guns, Guns Across America participants in St. Paul like Isaac Ohman sought to put a face on gun owners and to send a message to politicians that the proposed measures would impede the rights of everyday, law-abiding gun owners.

"We're not aggressors. We're not gun nuts," said Ohman, 24, of Alexandria, Minn. "We're responsible citizens that want to defend our families."

Like other events across the country, the St. Paul rally was largely a grass-roots event. It was organized by Michael Rieschl, a 31-year-old former manufacturing worker from Ramsey who isn't involved in politics or a leader in any gun-rights organizations. Rieschl said he felt compelled to make sure Minnesota wasn't left out of the national movement.

"The problem is we are now using our emotions to guide our actions," Rieschl told the crowd. "Gun laws do not work. Gun laws do not solve violent crimes. Gun laws reduce the rights of good law-abiding citizens to defend themselves."

Several legislators spoke at the event, including Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, who told the crowd that a number of bills unfavorable to gun-rights advocates could be introduced this session. Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, added that he'll instead push for legislation to allow teachers to be armed at schools regardless of a principal or superintendent's approval and to allow 21-year-olds to carry guns on college campuses.

"Basically, we're going to be playing defense," he said.

'It's nice to know'

Ana Sandborg, 32, of Mankato, at the event with her husband, owns several guns and was among the thousands of Minnesotans who bought additional guns after the shooting massacre that killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. "It's nice to know there are other people like us that don't want rights taken away," she said.

Participants carried signs saying, "Don't limit my rights," and "Today the 2nd amendment, tomorrow the 1st." Some even brought their guns. Rieschl, who carried a Glock 19 pistol, vowed it wouldn't be the last local event opposing stricter gun laws.

After the event, Protect Minnesota: Working to End Gun Violence released a statement saying the rallies were organized by anti-Obama groups. "Our communities have the right to be safe from people who should not have firearms," the group's executive director, Heather Martens, said. "We need to make sure every gun sale includes a background check, and we need to make sure weapons of war are not available in the civilian market."

To Ohman, it's going to take more than a rousing rally to persuade the public and policymakers to agree with people like him and keep gun owners' rights from eroding. It will take a movement, he said, in which regular people talk to those around them about why they believe gun rights are important.

"It's not something that will be solved solely by sign-waving," he said. "It's going to be impacted by neighbors talking to neighbors."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141 Twitter: @kelly-strib