OCEAN CITY — About two dozen people marched outside the Ocean City Tabernacle on Sunday morning holding signs that read “Worship God, Not Guns” and “You can’t pray guns away” in protest of former U.S. Marine Lt. Col. and newly named NRA President Oliver North speaking at two services.
Inside the Tabernacle, hundreds of people packed in and heard North, who was named president of the National Rifle Association in May, give a speech about commitment to faith, family, and freedom.
“I think this was one of the most inspiring speeches I’ve ever heard in church,” 93-year-old war veteran R.J. “Rocky” Gannon, an Ocean City native, said Sunday. “Those protesters should have been inside listening instead of outside.”
In his speech, North spoke of the value of commitment. Commitment to faith, the country, marriage and children are some of the bedrocks of America, he said, citing the commitment of the founding fathers to the country’s independence.
He also talked about his own faith and how it guided him through his time in the military and now his current role.
“The last sentence of the Declaration of Independence is a prayer ... it’s the only founding document in the world that gives credit to God,” he told the crowd. “You’ve got to come to know your Lord and savior Jesus Christ.”
Pete Karabashian, a U.S. Army veteran and Ventnor resident, said he was looking forward to hearing from North and was not disappointed.
“It was an excellent speech,” he said. “(North) is carrying out a mission to spread the word of the Bible.”
The announcement of North’s visit to the Tabernacle garnered a mixed reaction in the area late last week.
On Thursday, Tabernacle Chairman of the Board Virginia Weber said North was chosen as a speaker before the NRA announced in May he would be its new president.
In the 1980s, North was closely associated with the Iran-Contra scandal in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. In the scandal, armaments were illegally sold to Iran and proceeds sent illegally to Contra fighters battling a Marxist regime in Nicaragua.
North was identified as the person who sent the funds to the Contras. He was convicted on three felony counts in 1989, but his convictions were vacated in 1990 when an appeals court said witnesses in his trial may have been affected by his immunized congressional testimony, according to previous news reports.
On Sunday, however, the protests were about North’s connection to the NRA. Protesters repeated chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go” and “Hey NRA, how many children have died today?” as they marched in front of the Tabernacle, located at 550 Wesley Ave.
“The purpose of our demonstration is to make a stand for the people who are voiceless ... who have been gunned down unnecessarily with gun violence,” said Georgina Shanley, a city resident who organized the protest. “They don’t have a voice anymore and we’re here to stand for them and demand that safe gun laws are enforced.”
Shanley also said they were protesting, in part, because of comments North made after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when he called gun control activists “civil terrorists.”
Ocean City police stationed at the Tabernacle said there were no incidents between protesters and churchgoers.