RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The head of the gun-rights group that organized a rally that drew 22,000 people to the state Capitol in January said a similar event won’t happen next year, claiming that a “double standard” allowed gun-control advocates to book the majority of time slots for Lobby Day.

Philip Van Cleave, the president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, told members of the organization in a message this week that when he tried to apply for the 11 a.m. slot for next year’s Lobby Day, a tradition that gives citizens an opportunity to share issues they find important with their elected officials, he was informed by the state’s Department of General Services that the only times available were 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The 11 a.m. time slot had been taken by the Virginia Center for Public Safety, a group advocating for gun control that had previously tried to book the same time during this year’s Lobby Day but was beat out by VCDL.

Van Cleave also says in his message that a copy of a Freedom of Information Act document shows that the Virginia Center for Public Safety had applied for the time slot on Jan. 14, 2020, more than year before next year’s Lobby Day on Jan. 18, 2021. He told members the organization was notified that applications more than six months away from the day would not be granted.

“VCDL was told years ago that an application to use the Bell Tower for an event more than six months out would not even be accepted,” Van Cleave wrote. “We have followed that rule, booked six months out, and gotten the 11 am slot for 17 years.”

Dena Potter, a DGS spokeswoman, told 8News on Wednesday that no such policy exists at the department.

“We do not have a policy that outlines how early an application can be submitted,” Potter said. “Our current regulations were enacted in 1970 and that’s not addressed.”

Potter acknowledged that DGS has addressed a potential outline for when applicants can line up time slots for events on Capitol Square in its proposed new regulations, but those “are just beginning the regulatory process and will be subject to multiple levels of public comment.”

“It’s a double standard,” Van Cleave said in an interview Wednesday. Van Cleave told 8News that an employee at the Department of General Services told him and another VCDL member about the policy, but could not recall the last name of the official.

While the VCDL will not have a traditional Lobby Day, the group has called on members from across Virginia to take part in four major caravans heading to Richmond.

“The four major caravans will all flood into the Richmond area over a 4 hour period in the afternoon and will pass through the center of Richmond, near wherever the Senate is meeting,” Van Cleave says in the message.

“DGS does not base any permitting decisions on content or the applicant,” Potter added. “We issue permits in the order in which applications are received. The DGS spokeswoman provided a list of applications the department received – which can be found below – but stressed that due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic none of them have been approved at this time.

  • 6 a.m. – Gun Owners of America
  • 8:30 a.m. – Care in Action – Virginia Chapter
  • 11 a.m. – Virginia Center for Public Safety submitted the first application; Virginia Citizens Defense League submitted the second application for this time; then the Consumer Law Lobby Day submitted the third application for this time
  • 1:30 p.m. – Progress Virginia
  • 4 p.m. – New Virginia Majority

“During the pandemic, our practice has been to not issue a permit until 30 days before the scheduled event because we do not know what public health guidance and executive order restrictions may be in place beyond that,” Potter told 8News.

“For instance, the guidance recently changed from 250 individuals at a gathering to 25. So, we are waiting to issue permits to prevent having to issue a permit and then rescind it because guidance has changed.”

The group Gun Owners of America scooped up the 6 a.m. time slot, according to the information from DGS.

January’s pro-gun rally prompted state and federal authorities to increase security measures on Capitol grounds and drove groups planning to counter the pro-gun rally to change their Lobby Day plans. Despite concerns of potential threats, there was only one arrest and no reports of extremist violence or any security issues.