RICHMOND, Va (WRIC)- As threats of armed protests loom over state capitals nationwide, caravans of gun-rights activists from across the Commonwealth converged peacefully in Richmond on Monday.
Meanwhile, gun control advocates and some prominent Democratic leaders are calling for an end to open carry in Virginia in response to the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month.
Lobby Day–held annually on Martin Luther King Day–generally brings various advocacy groups to Richmond as the legislative session kicks off. This year, various event permits on the grounds of the State Capitol were pulled at the last minute to reduce opportunities for violence.
Even before Richmond went on high alert, Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave said they were denied a permit. With the coronavirus in mind, the group decided to organize a rolling caravan with a virtual lineup of speakers to keep up a tradition dating back to 2002.
“The bottom line is the fight to defend our Second Amendment rights is never won. It has to be fought continually by people that care about it,” Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) said during his per-recorded remarks.
The event brought car trains from at least 12 localities to the streets of Richmond on Monday afternoon. The fragmented caravans made their way down Broad Street for several hours throughout the afternoon, hardly disrupting traffic.
The turnout was a far cry from last year’s Lobby Day. More than 20,000 gun-rights activists clogged Capitol Square in opposition to a package of gun control proposals backed by the newly elected Democratic majority. At least six of those bills passed in the 2020 session.
Multiple speakers on Monday emphasized the importance of participating in state elections later this year, which will decide control of the House of Delegates, the Governor’s Mansion and the Attorney General’s Office. The message appeared to be targeted at frustrated supporters of President Donald Trump.
“If we decide to disengage and not get involved then we guarantee that the anti-gun politicians are going to remain in a majority position,” said Cam Edwards, a gun-rights advocate.
As some call for the repeal of new gun control laws, others want the General Assembly to go further.
Last week, four national gun violence prevention organizations sent an open letter to state lawmakers calling for a prohibition on the open carry of firearms throughout Virginia. The letter said, in part:
When extremists are armed, they jeopardize the safety of all residents trying to exercise their freedoms — and simply live their daily lives — in public. The sheer presence of firearms has the effect of chilling the exercise of Americans’ First Amendment right to assembly and freedom of speech. When firearms are brought to polling places, they are used as tools of voter suppression that have proliferated in recent years.
During a virtual vigil for victims of gun violence on Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam suggested that he would support action along these lines. The press was not given the opportunity to ask clarifying questions.
“There is no need for anyone to have an assault weapon on the streets of Virginia. There is no need to have open carry of assault weapons,” Northam said.
Northam told 8News in a previous interview that he wasn’t personally pushing the General Assembly to revisit a failed ban on the new sale of assault weapons and the possession of high-capacity magazines in 2021.
Attorney General Mark Herring said he’s pushing the General Assembly to add open carry to the list of prohibited activities at polling places.