RICHMOND, Va. — Massive crowds of Second Amendment supporters carrying firearms and wearing stickers reading “Guns Save Lives” have descended upon Virginia’s Capitol in Richmond Monday as a widely publicized gun rights rally is underway.
Thousands of people from across the country are expected to attend the demonstration demanding state Democrats drop a push for comprehensive gun control in the commonwealth. The hundreds already in Richmond were heard in large groups reciting the Second Amendment in unison. A slate of speakers, including Stephen Willeford — who was hailed as a hero in 2017 after he confronted a shooter at a Texas church — addressed the crowds.
“If they can come for your guns in Virginia, they can come for them in West Virginia,” demonstrator Annette Parker told Fox News, noting that she drove six hours to get to the event.
Richmond, once the capital of the Confederacy, has been on high alert for days following threats of violence at the rally, including claims of a militia storming the Capitol and protesters weaponizing drones. The security concerns have led to road closures as well as a ban on firearms in the Capitol and on its grounds.
But the president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League – the nonprofit organizer of the rally – tells Fox News that it’s not the pro-gun groups that are stoking fear.
“It’s the Democrats,” Philip Van Cleave said. “It’s almost like they want something to happen. It sounds crazy, but they keep doing it and you have to start wondering if that’s intentional.”
Stacks of chain-link fencing, white tents and rows of metal detectors were in place Monday as some demonstrators began making their way inside the Capitol grounds. But many have instead decided to stand outside the security perimeter with their guns.
Others were seen carrying American and Gadsden flags, while some were passing around petitions demanding the ouster of Gov. Ralph Northam, the state’s Democrat leader.
Members associated with the Light Foot Militia, some of whom were banned from Charlottesville, Va., following the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, also are expected to attend Monday’s protest. Richard Spencer, a prominent white nationalist, has indicated he might make an appearance.
Last week, three gun-control bills advanced in Virginia’s General Assembly, setting the stage for a contentious showdown between gun rights advocates and the Democratic lawmakers, who campaigned on bringing changes to the state following last year’s mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal complex.
The bills that sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee would require background checks on all firearms purchases, allow law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from people deemed to be a risk to themselves or others, limit handgun purchases to one a month and let localities decide on whether to ban weapons from certain events. To become law, the bills would have to pass the full Senate and the House of Delegates before going to the governor for his signature.
Yet in a symbolic sign of defiance, more than 100 municipalities in Virginia have designated themselves as a safe haven or sanctuary for the Second Amendment. Lawmakers and authorities in those areas have said they will refuse to enforce new gun control laws the Virginia legislature passes.
The state’s only socialist Democrat, Lee Carter, has said he will be heading to an “undisclosed location” to work Monday instead of the Capitol.
“People were threatening to murder me and murder my family over something I’m not even doing,” Carter told multiple media outlets ahead of today’s rally. “These threats are more hateful and more numerous than anything I’ve seen before. I mean, I’m the only socialist elected to a legislature in the South, so I do occasionally get waves of death threats — about every two three months it’ll happen — but this one is far larger and far more serious than anything I’ve seen before by orders of magnitude.”
Carter said he has reported the threats to the Virginia Capitol Police.
But some demonstrators in Richmond tell Fox News he should make an appearance.
“I think it’s ridiculous a former Marine would stay at home,” said Angela Darton of Fairfax County. “If he’s so anti-Second Amendment, you’d think he’d make an effort to be here.”
Monday’s rally is part of Lobby Day, an annual event in Virginia where advocates of a variety of causes descend on Richmond’s Capitol Square to plead their cases to legislators. Gun rights advocates have shown up in past years but the turnout Monday has grown astronomically.
The rally Monday also comes about two and a half years after a deadly incident in Charlottesville, in which hundreds of white nationalists and their supporters gathered about 70 miles from Richmond to demonstrate over plans to remove a Confederate statute. They were met by counterprotesters and violence quickly erupted. At one point, a vehicle drove into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one and injuring more than a dozen others.