Around 150 people gathered outside of Westmoreland County Courthouse to support Rostraver Police Officer Martin Palla and to show support of the Second Amendment in Greensburg on Sunday. Officer Palla’s actions received some backlash from his police chief and some members of the community after he stood quietly across from a March for Our Lives event in the same location a month prior with an AR-15 over his shoulder. Though Officer Palla was off-duty at the time, the action launched a departmental inquiry, and inspired a network of people to show they stand behind him and their constitutional right to bear arms.
“I feel like he was being made an example of for no reason,” said event organizer Brett Seroka, 32, of Belle Vernon, who started drumming up support through Facebook. “I felt it wasn’t right holding it against him that he’s a police officer,” said Seroka. “He stood quietly and exercised his Second Amendment, but we’re going to make some noise.”
Some came with pistols strapped to belts and AR-15s dangling from their body harnesses, to hear a lineup of speakers, including UK-born Nigel Broadbent, who now is an American citizen after 11 years in country. “It’s currently them and us, gun owners against non-gun owners. We need to come together and tackle the real problems,” said Broadbent, 48, of Oakdale. Middle school math teacher Josh Pollock, 25, of Elco, agreed. “Guns are not the issues causing the tragedies in school districts,” said Pollock, listing a lack of funding to staff school counselors, psychologists and social workers, as well as social media’s contribution to bullying. “As a society, we’re letting students fall through the cracks,” he said. ––Stephanie Strasburg
In their own words: Click through the portraits to learn why people decided to show up to the rally.
Walter Gibson, 42, of North Versailles. “It is my belief that if we concede ground, if we allow them to strip one of our rights, it will be exceedingly easier to erode our other rights,” said Gibson. “Soon they’ll be eroding our speech… All of our rights are linked.” (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette)
NRA instructor Marilyn Boulet, left, and her husband, Bill Perkins, of Gibsonia. “People take offense sometimes just because they don’t agree, but that’s not what the country’s about,” said Perkins, who said he came out to show support for the officer and for gun rights. Bouvet, who became a U.S. citizen after growing up in Canada, is now an NRA instructor and a range safety officer. “Somewhere along the line, you know, with the news I just realized in this great country you can have a fire arm for protection.” Her sisters don’t understand her change. “They said, oh my gosh, what happened to you? And I said, nothing, and I want to keep it that way.” (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette)
High schoolers Shania Lakin, left, 17, of Monessen, and Cassandra Cranston, 18, of Mt. Pleasant. Both students spoke at the event in support of gun rights. After the Parkland shootings, Cranston said she felt pressure to keep her support of the Second Amendment quiet. “A lot of times I don’t express my side,” she said. “There’s so much misunderstanding… in the end it’s what I feel.” “I wanted to protect may rights for my family and myself,” said Lakin of speaking out. She invited everyone in attendance carrying a AR-15 to come stand behind her as she addressed the crowd. “There’s no reason to be scared of the gun,” Lakin said, adding that having the guns near her showed that she wasn’t afraid of the weapon. (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette)
Brad McWilliams, 40, of North Versailles. “An officer is being persecuted for standing up for their Second Amendment right, so I’m here sticking up for that officer that didn’t do anything wrong.” (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette)
Nigel Broadbent, 48, of Oakdale. “It’s currently them and us, gun owners against non-gun owners. We need to come together and tackle the real problems,” said Broadbent, listing issues such as bullying. “My father’s fought for the freedom we lost in the U.K.,” said Broadbent, who is a veteran along with his father. “I’m just a simple man. I’m no speaker. I just want to stay free, but if I don’t get up and speak I’ll lose my freedoms.” (Stephanie Strasburg/Post-Gazette)