RICHMOND, Va.—Americans from across the country traveled to Virginia on Jan. 20, with some coming in packed buses, others driving from hours away, and a smaller number flying to the state to send a unified message to the Democratic-controlled state legislature—no to gun control.
Tens of thousands converged at the steps of the Capitol building and in the surrounding streets, and some gun rights supporters chose not to enter the Capitol so as to not violate the temporary state of emergency declared by Gov. Ralph Northam, which banned guns from the grounds. Capitol police estimated at least 22,000 participants.
There was a heavy police presence at the rally, and overhead, security watched from rooftops on nearby buildings and on the Capitol itself. There was only one entrance and a number of security checkpoints to get onto the Capitol grounds.
The mood, however, was upbeat, and authorities said there were no arrests or injuries reported as of 1:40 p.m, with most people having left by that time. The event concluded peacefully.
The rally, also known as “Lobby Day,” is organized annually by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), a nonprofit grassroots organization whose goal is to advance the right to keep and bear arms. In the morning, VCDL staff led Second Amendment advocates inside the Pocahontas building to convey their concerns to lawmakers about gun control proposals that are being advanced in the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
Many of the advocates wore bright orange “Guns Save Lives” stickers.
The VCDL has donated more than $200,000 to state lawmakers since 2002, records show. It’s an influential grassroots gun-rights organization with a long record in the state.
Democrats won control of both chambers of the state legislature in the November 2019 elections and have vowed to enact stronger gun control policies. They believe that stricter legislation will help reduce shootings and deaths and “break the cycle” of gun violence.
The Virginia Senate on Jan. 16 passed measures to require background checks on all firearms sales, limit handgun purchases to one per month, and restore local governments’ right to ban weapons from public buildings and other venues. The legislation will now go to the House of Delegates for consideration; it will have to be approved by the House and be signed by Northam to become law.
Meanwhile, hundreds of local counties, cities, and towns across the United States are declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” or “constitutional counties” as part of an ever-expanding movement over the past few years. Local officials in these counties generally state that they won’t follow new gun laws they believe are unconstitutional. In Virginia, 91 out of 95 counties in the state have passed measures affirming their support for Second Amendment rights.
Second Amendment advocates and gun rights supporters at the rally told The Epoch Times the proposals passing through the General Assembly violate their constitutional rights, and the laws would do nothing to stop criminals.
They say they would negatively affect citizens who have never broken the law.
Kenneth Evans, Virginia
“I’m originally from Virginia, born and raised,” Kenneth Evans told The Epoch Times. “I’ve lived in rural Virginia almost all my life and have owned guns. I’m not a felon, I’m actually a decorated veteran and work for the government now. It’s really a shame that it’s come to this, because Virginia is a great place to live.
“I hope today we send a message to the governor and the legislature that legal gun owners in Virginia should be left alone. There’s no call for gun control. It’s about emotion, it’s not about the realities. If you look at crime today, crime has gone down, violent crime has gone down.”
Justin Graf, Virginia
“We believe that the bills restrict our ability to protect ourselves,” Justin Graf from Virginia told The Epoch Times. “You don’t have any rights unless you have the power to defend them. The only way that the citizens of the United States have power, is through guns. It’s the unfortunate reality of life, and so them trying to restrict our magazine capacities and what types of guns we can hold only restricts our power.”
Justin Dorton, North Carolina
“I’m vehemently opposed to all the gun control legislation that they’re pushing forward,” Justin Dorton, from North Carolina, told The Epoch Times. “Ultimately, like you’ve seen here, everybody’s been cordial, friendly, and professional. That’s what the gun owners are; they’re law-abiding citizens.”
Dorton was one of many carrying their rifles openly.
“Nobody here wants violence; a gun is used to protect you. It’s a force multiplier for a single mother sitting at home taking care of her kids, and somebody breaks into their house. With a stroke of a pen, every one of these people would be felons—that’s not fair. That’s not good for anybody. The Second Amendment is not a government-given right, it’s a God-given right.”
Chris Hill, Georgia
“I came here to stand with the people in Virginia who are standing against the tyrannical, anti-Second Amendment gun laws sweeping the country,” said Chris Hill, from Georgia, who is founder of the III% Security Force militia group. “No other state has really stepped up to resist that, except for here in Virginia. I think its a move towards communism. They’re destroying our constitutional republic. We’re fortunate that we have the Second Amendment as our ultimate defense against tyranny, but what they’re doing is destroying our country.
“If we allow this to continue on unabated, then we’re not going to have a constitutional republic anymore. I’m going to do everything—I’ll fight to my last breath to ensure that we remain a constitutional republic. I think today felt like a peaceful revolution, and even though they tried to stifle it by scaring people away, it still took place. It has to take place and remain in a peaceful fashion so that it doesn’t become a violent revolution.”
“We showed up for the Second Amendment. They’re infringing on our rights; we don’t need any more gun laws. They need to enforce the ones we already have,” Michael Despres told The Epoch Times. “I feel like they’ll put more people in harm’s way than save anyone.”
Cody Claxton, Virginia
“I don’t want to see innocent people punished for the crimes of the guilty, and that’s what these gun laws do,” said Cody Claxton, from Annandale, Virginia. “The goal is to convince the delegates that these laws are going to create a bigger problem than [any] they try to solve and, hopefully, get them to think twice. My goal is to target specific parts of the legislation that are weak, and then we can win.
“The whole point of today is to lobby peacefully. That is the process: the Democrat and Republican process. We are way far away from any use of force that could potentially come, so the people who are making threats of violence or threatening statements, it is not helping our cause, it just makes us look worse.”
Steven Willeford, Texas
“I think they [gun control bills] all need to go away. I think citizens need to have the right to carry and to protect themselves. You can’t have a police officer everywhere all the time,” said Steven Willeford, the man who helped take down a gunman at a Texas church shooting in 2017.