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Virginia Gun Rally: Large Crowds and Long Lines

Nyumah Folley

Jan. 21, 2020

White supremacists, members of anti-government militias and other extremists have said they planned to be in Richmond for the rally as well, stoking fears of the sort of violence that left one person dead and some two dozen others injured during a far-right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
Hoping to head off trouble, the state has set up a security perimeter around the Capitol grounds and has banned weapons — including firearms — from the area inside the perimeter. Police officers guarded the area with the help of bomb-sniffing dogs, and people entering the perimeter through the single entrance were being screened with metal detectors.
Even so, plenty of demonstrators came armed to Richmond, and officials worried that confrontations could develop just outside that entrance or in the surrounding streets, where weapons will still be allowed.
Thousands of people are expected to attend.
Pro-gun advocates walked through Richmond streets armed with assault-style weapons Monday morning, and demonstrators from across the country carried signs and wore stickers with slogans like “Don’t tread on our gun rights” and “Guns Save Lives.”
Demonstrators started early Monday, with lines at the security checkpoint beginning to form before dawn. The crowd of onlookers steadily grew until it filled the area immediately outside the entrance to the Capitol grounds.
The rally is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a well-known Second Amendment advocacy organization in the state. The group has said it expected the protest to be peaceful. But it has also accepted help from militia groups to provide security for the rally, and friction with counterprotesters is possible during the event and afterward.
The organizers have told law enforcement authorities that as many as 100,000 people could show up. Around 6,000 people posted on the event’s Facebook page saying that they planned to attend.
The city is buzzing early on a holiday Monday.
Richmond was alive with activity as early as 6 a.m. as clusters of people made their way toward the Capitol. The traffic downtown included a Jeep flying an American flag, and numerous pickup trucks.
In a parking garage near 14th Street, David, a 55-year-old gun rights supporter from Boston who declined to give his last name, was taking supplies out of his truck.
“To pass laws that a certain segment of the population feels violates their basic rights, that’s what’s creating the emotion here today,” he said, standing next to a man dressed in military attire who identified himself as Captain Parker. “This is a watershed moment in the culture wars and in American politics right now.”
“It takes a lot to get folks off their sofas,” he observed.
Lev Huntington, 77, traveled to the rally from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Huntington, who owns firearms and has a concealed carry permit, belongs to the Virginia Citizens Defense League, the group organizing the rally. He said he knew others who wanted to attend but were afraid because of the threats of violence.
“They write to me and said, ‘I’m not going tomorrow, because things might get tough and I got to think about the kids,’” Huntington said. “I said, ‘This is about the kids.’”
Demonstrators came from as far away as Indiana and Texas.
Logan Smith, 25, a transmission plant worker from Indianapolis, said he set out Saturday night and drove in his black Dodge Charger for 9 hours and 46 minutes to reach Richmond on Sunday. Standing in a teal sweatshirt in the early morning cold Monday, his hands in his pockets, he watched the line for entrance to the Capitol grounds start to snake around the block.
“I see how it matters — it matters to me back home,” Smith said of gun rights. Referring to the gun regulations bills before the Virginia legislature, he said, “Seeing stuff like this being pushed, it doesn’t sit well.”
Around the corner, a whoop went up from a small crowd when several men unfurled a large cloth banner with a long gun emblazoned on the front.
Teri Horne, 51, stood on the sidewalk directly across from the entrance to the Capitol grounds, with a Smith & Wesson M&P 15T assault-style rifle straddled around her shoulder and a Texas flag at her side. Horne, of Quitman, Texas, and about three dozen others from the women’s chapter of Open Carry Texas drove about 24 hours from Texas “to support the people in Virginia.”
A group of other Texans wearing camouflage-pattern clothes approached Horne and asked if they could take a photograph with her. Another man walked over to offer her a National Association For Gun Rights sticker.
“This is where freedom began, right here, and this is what they’re doing to the people of Virginia,” Horne said. “Thomas Jefferson, he was a very livid character, he would have some strong words to say.”
Democrats in Virginia are pushing for gun control.
For years, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, which falls early in the legislative session, has been a day for ordinary Virginians and advocacy groups to talk with state legislators about issues that concern them, in a tradition known as “Lobby Day.”
This year, gun rights groups made especially big plans, after control of the Legislature flipped in the November election.
After a generation of dominance by Republicans sympathetic to gun rights, the state Senate and House of Delegates are now run by Democrats who want to impose tighter regulations — measures that have become increasingly popular in the state, especially after a gunman fatally shot 12 people in May in Virginia Beach.
The state Senate approved three gun control bills last week that the House of Delegates could approve as early as this week.
The prospect of new laws restricting firearms has met with stiff opposition in the state’s rural areas. Since November, more than 100 municipalities have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” — a purely symbolic step but one that highlights the widening rift in Virginia between its cities and its rural areas, which have been losing population and political power for years.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .
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