WINCHESTER — Cross Junction resident Abe Wine was among numerous local residents who attended a rally in support of gun rights at the state Capitol on Monday.
“The streets were completely packed full,” Wine said. “It was just people that want to have their voices heard. There was no violence. There was no ignorance. It was just people exercising their First Amendment right in support of their Second Amendment right, plain and simple.”
Tens of thousands of gun-rights activists came to the event to protest gun control legislation proposed by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
Wine, who traveled to the rally by bus with a group of friends, believes many of the proposed gun control measures are “extreme” and said it was important to him for his voice to be heard. He said if legislators vote along party lines, “there nothing stopping” the legislation from passing.
The Capitol building was fenced off during the event, and no guns were allowed inside the fenced area.
Wine said security was in full force, with officers surrounding the perimeter. He said activists who brought their guns protested outside of the fenced area.
Local resident Greg Mauzy, who attended the rally, called it “a great experience. [I] felt safe and secure all day. For a short period, Richmond was the safest city in Virginia — maybe the nation.”
Randy Gardner, of Frederick County, a member of the Virginia Citizens Defense League — a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms — traveled to the rally by bus with other league members. When they arrived in Richmond, they prayed for civility and safety during the rally, he said.
Although “there were a few people here and there that were a little more radical than most normal people would tend to side with,” Gardner said most rally participants were civil.
“To see that many armed militia in one spot without any violence was very amazing,” Gardner said.
Frederick County resident Susan Shick, who was one of the leaders in an effort to make Frederick County a Second Amendment sanctuary (a resolution to that effect was adopted by the county’s Board of Supervisors in December), said she and other gun-rights activists were proud of “the peaceful display of strength and solidarity” shown at the rally. She said it disproved concerns raised by Gov. Ralph Northam and other Democrats that the event might incite violence.
She said that gun owners don’t want to be labeled as “white rednecks.”
“They tried to label 2A people before they even got there, and the 2A people projected themselves in a professional manner,” Shick said.
Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton, 33rd District, said rally participants were patriotic and exhibited “a unity of purpose.” He described the crowd size as unprecedented, adding that he met people who came to the rally all the way from Texas, Arkansas and Colorado.
Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, 10th District, said that despite some “nasty comments” directed at legislators who favor more gun control legislation, the rally was peaceful.
“People were mostly polite,” Gooditis said. “Yes, people get excited and yell things in the megaphones and some of the signs are rude and meant to scare and intimidate, but there are always going to be rude signs at any protest. So this was basically a huge, peaceful rally.”
Gooditis said she was proud of the rally participants and law enforcement. Although many gun-rights activists disagreed with Northam’s decision to declare a state of emergency and ban firearms and other weapons from the Capitol grounds during the event, Gooditis thinks it was the right call. Some feared violence could break out like it did at the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
Prior to Monday’s rally, 91 of Virginia’s 95 counties, 15 of its 38 independent cities and 33 towns had adopted resolutions in support of Second Amendment rights. Clarke County and Berryville were among them, in addition to Frederick County.
LaRock, who opposes additional gun control measures, said legislators need to keep the Second Amendment movement in mind when voting on gun control bills.
“They better take notice of this,” LaRock said. “They’d have to be almost tone-deaf or completely arrogant to not realize that people are rejecting these ideas and proposed bills.”
The proposed legislation includes a ban on assault-style weapons, universal background checks for gun purchases, and “red flag laws” that would enable authorities to temporarily take guns from people they believe are a danger to themselves or others.
Gooditis said she doesn’t support taking assault-style weapons from people who already own them, with the exception of red flag laws.
“People think that we are not listening, that the Democrats are not listening,” Gooditis said. “They are wrong. Democrats are listening, they are talking. We are trying to figure out the best and fairest way to do things that will protect the greatest number of people. We really do listen and we really do hear. So it’s a misconception if people think they are not being heard.”
Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, has introduced House HB 961, which would prohibit the sale, transport and possession of assault firearms, certain firearm magazines, silencers and trigger activators. A violation is a Class 6 felony. The bill states that anyone who legally owns an assault firearm on July 1, 2020, may retain possession if they have a permit from the Department of State Police.
The state Senate during the current legislative session has already passed various bills, including SB 70, which establishes mandatory background checks for any transfer of firearms, including private sales. Senate Bill 69 and Senate Bill 35 also passed. SB 69 would limit citizens to one handgun purchase within any 30-day period, with exemptions for those with valid Virginia concealed handgun permits, law enforcement and those replacing lost or stolen handguns. Senate Bill 35 gives local governments the authority to ban the possession of firearms in public spaces during events that require a permit. The legislation still needs to be considered by the House of Delegates.
Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick County, 29th District, said he thinks rally participants were “very successful in getting their message across” and that it may sway some legislators.
“You don’t realize how important this is to people until people make the trek in below-freezing weather in great numbers to demonstrate this is something important to them,” Collins said.