Despite beefed-up police presence and the threat of overly frigid morning temperatures, some 22,000 law-abiding citizens, gun advocates, protesters and curious observers converged at the crack of dawn Monday upon Richmond, Va., for the Lobby Day rally regarding the right to bear arms.
Listed among the speakers were activists who said they wouldn’t support any new gun laws, regardless of Gov. Ralph Northam’s insistence that the newly crafted proposals are constitutional.
“Remember this is a government of the people by the people and for the people,” said Republican candidate John McGuire, who’s running in November for Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s seat. “And the people showing up today are sending a message to Gov. Northam that their rights should not be infringed upon.”
Meanwhile on MLK Day, the gun-control fight in Virginia spurred many legally armed activists to travel from as far away as Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas and Arizona, believing the problem has been lawmakers who’ve been avoiding the real issues.
Except for the arrest of a woman who wore a mask to conceal her identity and another person who attempted to climb the fire escape of a nearby 12-story building, the nearly daylong event that attracted a mostly White turnout went peacefully as attendees passed through metal detectors and had their bags searched. Those carrying guns were denied entrance to the capitol grounds.
“Thousands of people came to Richmond to make their voices heard. Today showed that when people disagree, they can do so peacefully,” Gov. Ralph Northam, who supports a package of bills including universal background checks and a one-handgun-a-month purchase limit, said in a statement. “The issues before us evoke strong emotions, and progress is often difficult. I will continue to listen to the voices of Virginians, and I will continue to do everything in my power to keep our Commonwealth safe.”
Richmond native Robert Garfield said he’d never been to anything like this before.
“I thought I’d come to the rally because it was a chance to see what things are about,” Garfield said. “Because the rally is local and I’m local, I came to hear people voice their opinions about their rights. I believe people have the right to possess guns and think gun control should be aimed more at responsible gun ownership.”
Queried for his sentiments regarding the rally’s low African American turnout, Garfield said he wasn’t surprised.
“I don’t feel like [the right to own guns] is an issue in our community that’s front and center,” he said. “Maybe in urban areas, Blacks don’t boast about gun ownership because they’re afraid that if they do, they’re more likely to get shot by a police officer. It’s a reality and something that I think about.”
Jeffrey Hopkins and wife Tracy, who attended the rally from Massachusetts, said they came in support of the 2nd Amendment.
“We know what tyranny is being in Massachusetts, because they took our rights there with no due process or anything,” Hopkins said. “They just passed a law and that was it. So, we see what’s going on here in Virginia and if it happens here, it will go right to Massachusetts and everywhere else.”
Hopkins added, however, that gun ownership is “a God-given right” and that most people within reason should have the right to own them to defend themselves.
“If people are mentally ill or whatever, they obviously shouldn’t have a gun,” said Hopkins, who also favors background checks. “But I don’t believe in registration confiscation or anything like that. If you want to have a 30-round mag, that’s what you should have. I don’t think there should be a limit on what people can have.”