Aaron Schwarz cut a curious figure as he walked through the gun-loving, denim-clad crowd.
The bespectacled 24-year-old sported a white collared shirt, black tie and dress pants. Dust from the Hernando County Fairgrounds coated his black loafers.
Schwarz held a sign emblazoned with a photo of his Bushmaster assault-style rifle and these words: I am an aerospace engineer. I am a law abiding citizen. I vote. And this is my rifle.
"There's a perception that gun owners are dumb rednecks," said Schwarz, of Milton, near Pensacola. "But they could be your mother, your doctor or your neighbor who might actually save your butt if someone breaks into your home."
Schwarz, who acknowledged he does not actually have to wear a tie to his engineering job, woke up at 4 a.m. Saturday and drove his 20-year-old Buick more than 400 miles to attend Florida's venue of the Guns Across America rally.
Hastily organized as the debate on gun control raged, most of the rallies took place Saturday in front of state capitols. Florida organizers picked the fairgrounds, on the south side of Brooksville, because the site was available on short notice and accessible to people in the southern part of the state.
Traffic started filing into the parking lot well before the high noon start time. Over the next three hours, speaker after speaker walked on to the stage to send out a call to political arms. Their harsh criticism of President Barack Obama extended beyond his gun control proposals to his governing in general.
As if preaching to an angry choir, the Rev. Jack Martin drew cheers when he chastised the president for Obamacare and the embassy attacks in Benghazi before coming back to the Second Amendment.
"That gun is a God-given right," said Martin, lead pastor at Praise Assembly of God in Hudson, as patriotic banners on the stage billowed in the breeze. "Don't give it up."
The military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines at the center of the debate figured prominently in speeches and on placards. One woman's sign showed a picture of a rifle and a baby's face and stated: I do not support this for its power, I love only the innocent life it defends. A man held a large white flag with a rifle and a taunt: Come and take it.
"The ill-informed, armchair liberal will ask, 'Why do you need more than 10 rounds?' " Gloria Fisher, a Republican state commiteewoman from Citrus County, told the crowd. "Well, Mr. Effete Liberal, if criminals pick me as their next victim, I have a much better chance of surviving if I can defend myself with multiple rounds against multiple attackers."
State Rep. Jimmie T. Smith called Florida, with more than a million concealed weapons permits, an example for other states to follow. The crowd whooped when the Inverness Republican suggested a response to gun control advocates.
"They will prey on your heart strings and say, 'Well, don't you want to protect the children?' " Smith said. "You look at them and tell them, 'Damn straight I do, and I'll do it myself.' "
Co-organizer Damon Locke, a 38-year-old paramedic from St. Cloud who teamed up with Spring Hill resident Deb Howard to put on the event, said at least 2,000 people came through the gates before volunteers stopped counting. There were families carrying children and rabid conspiracy theorists warning about a new world order.
Many attendees signed their names on a petition headed to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to voice opposition to banning guns or high-capacity magazines as well as a national gun registry. The Obama administration and gun control advocates have pushed for new restrictions in the wake of December's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Kira Floyd, a 30-year-old single mother of two, drove with her father from Clermont. Floyd said the event inspired her to finally follow Dad's advice and get a weapons permit.
"To protect your family is the first priority," she said.
Another national rally is planned for Feb. 8. This time, Florida's event will be in Tallahassee.
Schwarz plans to be there with his tie, his loafers and his sign.
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes.