Thousands rally against proposed new gun control measures in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. — Gun rights advocates filled the streets of downtown Richmond and the area around the Virginia statehouse Monday, demanding that lawmakers drop their consideration of several measures to limit gun rights and saying they will not comply with the new laws if passed.

“We ain’t going to turn our guns over. We ain’t going to register our guns. It ain’t happening. Wait until the next election comes around,” said Kenny Butler, 62, of St. Stephens Church, Va. “We’ve had it in Virginia. I’m telling you: We’ve had it.”

Despite pre-rally concerns that the event could turn violent, particularly in light of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, no arrests were reported, according an official police account tracking the event.

Many protesters openly carried guns, though the area closest to the Capitol was a weapon-free area. Anyone wishing to stand in Capitol Square had to pass through a metal detector. There was a heavy police presence, and helicopters buzzed overhead.

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is typically known as Lobby Day in Virginia, where citizens —many who have the day off — come to the Legislature to lobby lawmakers. But Monday’s rally was a much bigger turnout. Many gun rights’ advocates did head into the Capitol to meet with lawmakers, but thousands more protested outside.

“I’m going to help the Virginians protect their Second Amendment rights because if theirs go, then mine goes,” said Jason from Tennessee, who openly carried a .30-06 rifle. He refused to give his last name. “We’re not what everybody says we are. They call us Nazis. They call us fascists. They call us evil people. Just a bunch of baloney.”

Much of the anger was directed at Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Democrats won control of both chambers in the statehouse in 2019 for the first time in 26 years. Their efforts were aided by court-ordered redistricting due to racially gerrymandered maps.

Virginia has banned guns from the Capitol, and the state Senate has passed several other gun control bills, including a ban on purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period, universal background checks and a “red flag” law that allows law enforcement to take guns if an individual poses “a substantial risk of injury to himself or others.”

The proposed laws got Bryan Selph, 65, of Virginia Beach, to attend his first rally.

“Northam has essentially declared war on the Second Amendment,” Selph said. “Making my bolt-action rifle an assault rifle, that ain’t common sense. That’s a flat-out attack on the Second Amendment and, of course, the Constitution of United States.”

Several Republican state lawmakers in North Carolina planned to attend the rally Monday, and 50 House members, including Speaker Tim Moore, signed a letter supporting communities in Virginia that want to become “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” Rep. Keith Kidwell, of Chocowinity, organized the letter and was expected to deliver it to Virginia lawmakers Monday, The News & Observer reported last week.

Proponents of the proposed measures in Virginia pointed to their victories in recent elections in the state as the reason for the changes. Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety group spent $2.5 million in Virginia’s 2019 election, and Moms Demand Action, a group that wants tougher gun safety measures, provided grassroots support, knocking on doors and making phone calls, tweeted Shannon Watts, the group’s founder.

Twelve people were killed in a June 2019 mass shooting at a Virginia Beach government building.

“One day of extremism will NEVER undo years of activism that has resulted in stronger gun laws, better corporate policies and wins at the ballot box —not to mention derailing the @NRA’s leaders and its agenda,” Watts tweeted. “This bell can’t be unrung.”

The crowd was overwhelmingly white, largely male and very pro-President Donald Trump. There were several Trump 2020 signs in the crowd and some chants of “four more years.” Some women in the crowd carried “gun rights are women’s rights” signs.

At one point, a protester with a bullhorn asked how many in the audience had voted for Northam —and drew nearly no response. Northam defeated his Republican opponent 53.9% to 45% in 2017. He is limited to one term by law and will not be on the ballot in 2021.

Sarah Delgallo of Palmyra, Va., said it was her first rally of this type. She said she understands policies such as background checks, but said Northam and lawmakers had gone too far.

“This is a little bit much,” Delgallo said. She said she came “to send a message to the governor that you can’t violate our constitutional rights. It’s like he’s not listening, so hopefully this sends a message. Especially people like me, I don’t normally come out and do these things.

“I couldn’t just sit at home and if they came and took my guns, I didn’t do anything about it. At least I can try.”