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In the bitter cold Saturday afternoon, the crowd at the Utah Capitol was mostly packing heat and defiantly daring the federal government to try to take away any gun rights.

They also discovered they had picked up two allies — a newly elected Utah state lawmaker and the Utah Sheriffs' Association.

Republican Brian Greene drew some of the biggest cheers from the 1,500-strong crowd, saying he would unveil legislation next week giving local sheriffs the power to arrest any federal agent attempting to seize firearms from Utah residents.

The Utah Sheriffs' Association also pushed back on President Barack Obama's proposal last week seeking to restrict the size of magazines, reinstitute the assault weapons ban and provide tougher background checks on gun buyers.

"No federal official will be permitted to descend upon our constituents and take from them what the Bill of Rights — in particular our Amendment II — has given them," the association's letter dated Jan. 17 read. "We, like you, swore a solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and we are prepared to trade our lives for the preservation of its traditional interpretation."

Greene called the letter "brilliant" and said it hewed closely to his proposed measure.

He told the crowd to be wary of the Obama proposal.

"This is all about control," Greene said. "I saw the president in his press conference the other day with all the children around him and he made this comment — and I want to correct him. He said if this can save just one life we have a duty to do it. No, Mr. President, you have a duty to uphold the Constitution."

His proposal also echoes a resolution made by Dale Ure, a Washington County financial planner. Ure said he wanted Utah to stand up to the federal government by allowing Utah to have gun laws that superseded federal authority.

During the two-hour rally that coincided with the national Gun Appreciation Day movement across the country, participants thundered cheers for Kevin Brooks, the sermon-pounding pastor from Victory Baptist Church, who talked about "the original open carry law" in the Bible where people "wore their swords proudly." They booed every mention of Obama's name. They repeatedly chanted "USA! USA! USA!"

The conflict over guns heated up after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut just before Christmas. It left 20 first-graders dead — including 6-year-old Emilie Parker, formerly of Ogden — and sparked a debate in Washington over tackling the issue of firearms.

The Sandy Hook massacre was referenced a few times at the rally, including when the self-named NutnFancy — famous in gun circles for a series of YouTube videos — remembered seeing the candlelight vigils shortly after the tragedy.

"There isn't a single person on these steps who did not cry when they saw what happened to these innocent, pure little children at the hands of a madman," he said as his voice began to rise. "In. A. Gun-free. Zone."

The National Rifle Association has called for armed security guards in schools, and there has been a push by gun advocates to arm teachers. In Utah at the end of December, more than 150 educators attended a free concealed-weapons class sponsored by the Utah Shooting Sports Council.

Clark Aposhian, chairman of the council, spoke at the rally and leveled a caution at those that he perceived as opposing gun rights.

"If I could tell one thing to these bedwetting, hand-wringing liberals out there, it's that Thomas Jefferson anticipated you and called you a tyrant," Aposhian said. "And there's already a method of taking care of it, if not by the First Amendment, then by the Second."

Nate Rodriguez came from West Valley City to support Gun Appreciation Day and arrived carrying a yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag, a .40-caliber pistol strapped to his waist and a black rifle slung over his back.

He stood near a family who had bundled their child in a stroller and several people carrying posters that read "Evil Prevails When Good Men Are Disarmed" and white flags with the image of an assault rifle, a star and the words "Come and Take it."

Bundled in a hoodie and jacket, the 47-year-old Rodriguez said he didn't expect Greene's proposed measure to ultimately survive, but he said he appreciated the spirit of it. He also said he felt guns were under siege in America and hoped the message was received by those who want to restrict gun access.

"I think it's about protecting the right to own a gun," Rodriguez said. "If you don't want to own one, you don't have to."

The rally was among dozens centered at statehouses nationwide — including an estimated crowd of about 2,000 in New York — and were organized by Eric Reed, an airline captain from the Houston area who started a group called More Gun Control Equals More Crime.

Michael Jones, who worked with Guns Across America, helped organize Saturday's rally along with Terry Brooks of Utah Guns.

dmontero@sltrib.comTwitter: @davemontero