Armed with rifles, tactical gear and homemade posters, thousands of gun rights activists hit the streets of Richmond, Virginia, Monday to protest the state’s proposed gun control laws.
Lobby Day went off with no major violent incidents in the morning despite threats from armed militias and white supremacist groups that led Gov. Ralph Northam to declare a state of emergency and ban weapons from Capitol Square.
Gun rights groups, such as the Virginia Citizens Defense League and Gun Owners of America, spoke out against the proposed ban on assault rifles, a “red flag” law, which would give officials the power to confiscate weapons from an individual who poses a threat, and other gun control measures that the newly Democratic-led state legislature introduced.
Around 16,000 armed activists stayed outside of the Capitol grounds, where all weapons are banned until Tuesday night, while 6,000 unarmed members held their rally outside of the legislative building, according to the Virginia Capitol Police.
On Wednesday, Northam issued a state of emergency and banned all weapons from Capitol grounds from Friday until Tuesday night. Northam said he had received credible intelligence that hate groups and militias were planning violent attacks in Capitol Square that mirrored the ones seen before the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally where three people were killed.
“They are not coming to peacefully protest, they are coming to intimidate and to cause harm,” the governor said at a news conference.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League has asked its members to obey the state of emergency. But the group said those who plan to attend Lobby Day and protest outside the protected areas should come armed.
“For every one gun owner on the Capitol grounds, we need another two to five people outside,” the league said in a statement.
President Trump showed his support for the activists on Twitter, writing in a tweet Monday morning, “The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights. This is just the beginning. Don’t let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020.” He also retweeted a video of the gun rights activists singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Virginia’s House Republican leader, however, called for calm and urged all groups attending Monday’s Lobby Day to be peaceful.
“Any group that comes to Richmond to spread white supremacist garbage, or any other form of hate, violence, or civil unrest isn’t welcome here,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter.