RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/AP) — Richmond Monday flooded with thousands of about 22,000, according to the Virginia Capitol who wanted to voice their support for gun rights.
While many said they were opposed to passing gun-related legislation during this year’s General Assembly session, a few of the crowd were in favor of more legislation.
10 On Your Side’s Jason Marks and Andy Fox were in Richmond Monday and spoke to some people on both sides.
It was clear which side of the issue — rally attendees versus protesters — was most in-attendance. Some wore orange stickers in support of gun rights, which others carried weapons outside the gated area.
“I believe it is unconstitutional,” said one gun owner said, referring to some gun-related legislation. “I believe it is wrong.”
About 6,000 gun owners crammed in the small Capitol Square, and another 16,000 gathered in the nearby streets. The rally started exactly at 11 a.m., and for one hour, speeches from people echoed across the Capitol lawn.
Many chose not to enter the designated rally zone, where Northam had imposed a temporary weapons ban and instead packed surrounding streets, many dressed in tactical gear and camouflage and carrying military-style rifles as they cheered on the speakers.
“Citizens need to be able to protect ourselves,” another gun owner added.
The crowd is comprised of some Americans who are at odds with the newly-elected Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly, and they blame Gov.Ralph Northam for the new gun safety initiatives.
“It’s important,” said former Congressman Scott Taylor. “They are our Second Amendment rights. What you are seeing you have never seen before.
Engagement like this. Every person peacefully exercising their First Amendment trying to protect their Second Amendment rights.”
They are impassioned and they came in large numbers from across the country.
Brendan Mooney is a Virginia Beach executive member of the gun lobby group that organized the rally. The Virginia Citizens Defense League has been lobbying localities to go on record in support of the Second Amendment.
“Virginia Beach, we got you, Mooney said. “Suffolk, too. We are going to move to Norfolk. Don’t you worry? We are going to make you a sanctuary city as well, Norfolk. “
Pamela Tures is from the Northern Neck.
“Do I think the word got through?” she asked. “That is the law of the land (the Constitution). I think for people that were watching, it got through, but I know our lawmakers decided to run and hide from us thinking we are dangerous — which we are not.”
While there was fear of potential violence ahead of Monday’s rally, it ended peacefully.
‘We don’t want more school shootings’
While the sea of gun owners crowded into the Capitol Monday, there were some others in favor of legislation on guns.
“These guys on the street aren’t making people safe,” Fluvanna County resident Thomas Freeman said.
Freeman wanted to make his voice heard.
“We don’t want more school shootings,” he said. “We don’t want people shot in Walmart, or churches, or going to a concert. That’s happening.”
Freeman says the other pro-gun law supporters were told to stay home. Their afternoon rally was canceled.
“I feel sad,” Freeman said. “There were people who wanted to come and wanted to lobby their government and they didn’t feel safe.”
His argument is a simple one.
“We need to have good gun laws and good gun control so the people who are responsible owners aren’t harmed by the non-responsible owners,” Freeman said.
That’s why Freeman, a party of one, marched words as his weapon.
“Guns were on the ballot in November,” Freeman added. “Guns lost. I’m sorry, but that’s the system we have.”
A peaceful close
Just one woman was arrested on a felony charge for wearing a mask in public.
The size of the crowd and the expected participation of white supremacists and fringe militia groups raised fears that the state could see a repeat of the violence that exploded in 2017 in Charlottesville.
But the rally concluded uneventfully around noon, and the mood was largely festive, with rally-goers chanting “USA!” and waving signs denouncing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
Democratic lawmakers — including House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw — told AP the rally wouldn’t impact their plans to pass gun-control measures, including universal background checks and a one-handgun-purchase-a-month limit.
Democrats say tightening Virginia’s gun laws will make communities safer and help prevent mass shootings like the one last year in Virginia Beach, where a dozen people were killed in a municipal building.