By David Farley
More than a dozen demonstrators turned out at the last minute Thursday evening at the Knights of Columbus in Dyker Heights (1305 86th Street) to protest a fundraiser by the National Rifle Association. The event, reported at the last minute by the Brooklyn Reporter, was held within earshot of the playgrounds and ballparks of Dyker Beach Park and just up the block from PS/IS 229, where lockdown drills are a regular part of students’ learning environment, as they are for kids across the country. Two other venues in Brooklyn had backed out of hosting the event in recent weeks after pressure from local citizens and politicians: Gargiulo’s restaurant in Coney Island and the Grand Prospect Hall in Park Slope. The March for Our Lives walkouts included more than 20 schools throughout the borough. The NRA is clearly not welcomed in Southern Brooklyn.
Despite the NRA’s effort to keep the event a secret, members of Moms Demand Gun Sense, Rise and Resist, Gays Against Guns and the Coney Island Anti-Violence Collaborative showed up as reports of the event circulated on social media and stayed through the event. “The NRA has no place in New York,” said protester Kevin Hertzog of Gays Against Guns. “For a group that prides itself on its toughness, it seems pretty cowardly” to have planned the event in secret.
Another protester, Doug Schneider, candidate for Democratic District Leader in the 44th Assembly District, stressed that the NRA is not a civil rights organization, despite what it says. “Their main reason to be out here is to be provocative and to engender a response,” Schneider said. “Every position the NRA takes is about selling more guns.”
The protesters kept to the sidewalk and chanted during the event. Drivers on 86th Street honked their horns in support. One attendee yelled, “Sieg Heil!” as he entered the building. When asked by protesters what he meant by that, he shouted over his shoulder, “Learn some German!” Across Thirteenth Avenue, a lone counterprotester unfurled a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and shouted at protesters over the traffic.
Protesters, counterprotesters and fundraiser-attendees mostly kept away from each other. There was a light police presence. Officials from the Knights of Columbus, the country’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, were nowhere to be seen.
The NRA event was the latest example of right-wing groups or figures coming into Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights. The Brooklyn GOP recently invited notorious Islamophobe and Nazi Sebastian Gorka, a former deputy assistant to Donald Trump, to speak at a $500-a-plate fundraiser at the Dyker Beach Golf Club, across 86th Street from the KofC. The event was met with fierce resistance from local groups and politicians—and the golf course announced that the fundraiser had been canceled. The new venue is as yet unknown.