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updated: 8/5/2014 3:54 PM

Moms opt out of National Night Out event after rifle group plans protest

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  • Christine Fenno, of Oak Park, protests gun violence at a June 2013 vigil in Palatine, marking the six-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings.

       Christine Fenno, of Oak Park, protests gun violence at a June 2013 vigil in Palatine, marking the six-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

Moms Demand Action, a group advocating gun control, has withdrawn its application to appear at Tuesday night's National Night Out in Arlington Heights after the Illinois State Rifle Association rallied its members to attend and protest the event.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is a national nonprofit founded after the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2013 left 26 people, including 20 children, dead.

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A local chapter of the group applied and was approved by the Arlington Heights Park District to be one of the 40 to 45 vendors on-site at National Night Out in North School Park tonight.

However, after an email from the Illinois State Rifle Association to its members advised people to call the park district to complain and attend Tuesday's National Night Out event in protest, the group withdrew its application.

The email encouraged ISRA members to spread the word about the protest through online blogs and get as many members and NRA supporters to attend National Night Out in protest.

A news release posted on the park district's website said Arlington Heights Park District Executive Director Steve Scholten got an email Monday from Moms demand Action, asking to "withdraw the request to participate in the National Night Out Event." The email did not explain the decision.

The debate is the latest instance of North School Park being used as a public forum for free speech. During the holiday season the park district allows both a Nativity scene, as well as a protest sign from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, to be displayed in North School Park.

"North School Park is considered a public forum and has historically provided a space for the expression of constitutionally protected free speech, subject to reasonable Park District rules and regulations," the park district message said.

"By law, the Park District must administer this public forum without discrimination and has done so in the past."

Each year the park district invites local businesses and other groups to host tables at the expo portion of National Night Out, which will be held from 5-8 p.m. tonight at North School Park, at Arlington Heights Road and Eastman.

"We do not impose our personal beliefs or religious views in these matters because we are stewards of both the public's trust and tax dollars," Scholten's message said.

Primarily, National Night Out is focused on crime prevention, and is an opportunity for police and other emergency personnel to mix with residents in a festival setting.

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