Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday declared a state of emergency and instituted a temporary ban on firearms from being carried on Capitol grounds, as the state prepares to deal with an influx of gun rights supporters attending a protest rally in Richmond next week.
“I believe wholeheartedly in the constitutional right of citizens to come to their state representatives and make their views known. I also believe in the right to debate and the right to assemble, and I believe in the right to bear arms,” Northam said at a Wednesday press conference.
“But what we have seen and heard in recent weeks has the potential to go far beyond these constitutionally protected rights. We are seeing threats of violence. We are seeing threats of armed confrontation and assault on our Capitol.”
Northam cited “credible threats” from white nationalists and out-of-state rally attendees as justification for the measures, saying he hoped these steps would help avoid the sort of violent clashes that led to the death of a counter-demonstrator at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
suggests militia groups and hate groups, some from out of state, plan
to come to the Capitol to disrupt our democratic process with acts of
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) January
Thursday, the FBI had arrested three men who had purchased guns and discussed traveling to the rally. According to The New York Times, the three men are suspected of being members of a “neo-nazi hate group.”
.@GovernorVA Northam yesterday said he was acting on credible threats of violence ahead of the Monday Lobby Day rally in declaring a state of emergency and temporarily banning guns from Capitol grounds. https://t.co/KmzPyWCKs6
— Alana Wise (@alanawise_) January 16, 2020
The protest is slated for Monday, which is Lobby Day in Virginia. The annual Lobby Day event has taken on new significance for gun rights activists this year, as Democrats have taken control of the state legislature for the first time in a generation and have vowed to pass new gun control measures.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), the gun rights group that organized Second Amendment activists this year, has called the event “vital” to helping preserve their rights.
In the first week of the two-month session, Democrats in the General Assembly passed a motion banning guns from inside the Capitol building — including for lawmakers — setting the scene for a session expected to focus heavily on gun policy.
Northam had previously proposed a package of eight gun safety measures to a special session of the General Assembly following the summer shooting, but the session was halted by Republicans without a vote.
What’s Expected Monday
Both the state of emergency and Northam’s firearms ban will expire on Tuesday, “after the rally, and those who would bring violence into Virginia have left and returned to where they came from,” Northam said.
The move is likely to further animate Second Amendment activists, who have vocalized with increasing urgency their fear of seeing gun rights pared back under the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Already, the Monday rally has drawn national attention from both sides of the gun debate, with social media users claiming roots across the country vowing to attend.
A Facebook page promoting the event has more than 5,500 users planning to attend, with an additional 9,600 listed as “interested.”
Busloads of Virginia supporters from as far away as Abingdon and as left-leaning as Arlington are expected to arrive in Richmond on Monday morning. Several chartered buses are listed as full on the VCDL website.
“If you care about your gun rights in the slightest then it is vital that you show up at this rally,” reads a plea on the VCDL website.
A separate event in protest of new gun laws, organized by the National Rifle Association, was held earlier this week.
Northam appealed to attendees of the Monday rally to “follow the NRA’s example, and make your event a peaceful display as you have done in the past.”
“Please do not dishonor Virginia or your cause,” Northam said on Wednesday.
Updated 1/16/2020 12:01 p.m. to include information on arrests made by the FBI.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.