Virginia gun-rights rally ends peacefully despite earlier fear of violence

Published On January 20, 2020 | By Zee Zaman | News
Gun rights advocates rally on the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, U.S., January 20, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
Zainab Zaman

A large gun-rights rally in Richmond, Virginia concluded peacefully on Monday despite warnings, fears of extremist violence and a state of emergency.

Thousands of gun rights activists, armed militia, and right-wing extremists gathered in an area known as “the pen” near the state Capitol, to protest against new gun control laws proposed by the Democratic majority.

There were threats of violence ahead of the protest and Ralph Northam, the governor of Virginia, declared a temporary state of emergency to ensure safety by banning firearms from the area around the Capitol building.

Law enforcement officials in Virginia said the threats were coming from credible sources through mainstream channels as well as from violent groups and white nationalists on the dark web.

Residents of Virginia were concerned about a possible repeat of the violent 2017 Charlottesville rally that ended in a woman’s death.

“State intelligence analysts have identified threats and violent rhetoric similar to what has been seen before other major events such as Charlottesville,” Northam said in a statement.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), a pro-gun rights group that organized the annual gun rights rally aimed for a peaceful event as 50,000 people gathered.

Philip Van Cleave is a dominant voice for gun rights in the U.S. as the leader of the VCDL and former sheriff’s deputy. For the past two decades, he has been lobbying Virginia lawmakers to maintain gun rights and stop any new restrictions on possessing weapons.

A sea of pro-gun advocates protested at the capital in Virginia to restrict gun control laws in place by the new Democratic majority. (Photo by the Washington Post)

“The purpose of the rally, which we think was a success, is that we want the general assembly who make the laws to know that we don’t want any more gun control and we had a huge turnout to back that up,” Cleave said.

“We organized the rally because the Governor’s attacking gun rights in Virginia, he’s trying to push to restrict our rights and we have these rally’s every year but they are not usually as big,” he said.

Chelsea Parsons, vice president of the organization Gun Violence Prevention, said Virginia legislators heard the will of the people during the recent state elections. “Virginia voters overwhelmingly voted for candidates who supported in acting stronger gun laws in the common wealth,” Parsons said. “Yesterday’s demonstration doesn’t change that.”

The crowd was calm and there were no immediate reports of arrests or violence. “There was a massive crowd, everyone was peaceful and everyone attended with a positive attitude and there was no violence,” van Cleave said.

Three members of a neo-Nazi group called The Base, a white supremacist group were planning to attend the rally, however they were arrested by the FBI on Thursday. The base used its members to establish a race war and commit acts of violence against black people and jews.

The annual rally is also known as Lobby Day and has been a place for gun rights advocates to gather for nearly two decades.

Patricia Yvonne Webb, A board member of the VCDL who has been attending Lobby Day every year, says she hopes to focus public attention on how she feels the government of Virginia is taking away basic human rights from its citizens.

“It was not just a rally, the point of the day is to lobby legislators and we have been doing this every year since 2002. On Martin Luther King Day we meet with the senators and the delegates and the rally is just a fun afterthought,” Webb said.

“People from all over the country joined the rally to recognize that fact that when one right is in jeopardy it endangers all our rights,” she said.

“It’s ingenious to put rights against each other,” Parsons said. “People in the states have the right to be free to live safe from gun violence in their communities, they have the right to be able to send their children to school, or go to a movie without the fear of being gun downed.”

People were able to carry guns freely on the streets. However, those inside the pen had to give up their guns.  After the speeches wrapped up, protestors began marching along the streets of downtown Richmond.

“I don’t know why the governor ordered a state of emergency. Our lobby day has always been a peaceful event and there was no reason to think that it would be anything other than a peaceful event this year,” Webb said.

The Democrats’ plan to pass a slate of gun control bills that include expanding background checks, a ban on guns in parks and public buildings and limiting citizens to one handgun purchase a month.

“Each state that decided to go further in strengthen gun laws is another step in the right direction we do need congress to act and have a consistency nation-wide when it comes to background checks and assault weapons, the measures that Virginia is considering will make the state safer,” Parsons said.

President Trump risked stirring up tensions when he tweeted on Saturday that the Second Amendment in Virginia is under attack because of the democrats, “Your Second Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away.”

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