Thousands of armed gun-rights activists filled the streets around Virginia’s capitol building on Monday (January 20)
to protest a package of gun-control legislation making its way through the newly Democratic-controlled state legislature.
The Richmond rally maintained a festival atmosphere amid heavy security after Governor Ralph Northam banned carrying weapons onto the capitol grounds, anxious to avoid a replay of the violence at a 2017 demonstration by white nationalists in Charlottesville that killed a counter-protester.
That order was sparked by fears that members of white nationalist and militia groups planned to attend the rally, which organizers the Virginia Citizens Defense League planned as a peaceful show of political power. The FBI earlier in the week arrested three alleged neo-Nazis who it said intended to use the event to spark a race war.
Activists at the rally argued that Virginia was trying to infringe on their right to bear arms, which is protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Northam, a Democrat, has vowed to push through new gun control laws and is backing a package of eight bills, including universal background checks, a “red flag” law, a ban on assault-style rifles and a limit of one handgun-a-month purchase. It does not call for confiscating guns currently legally owned.
It is not his first attempt. He called a special legislative session last year after the massacre of 12 people in Virginia Beach, but the Republicans who then controlled the legislature ended that meeting without a vote.
State Democratic leaders and activists believe that move contributed to the November victories that gave them control of both chambers.