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Richmond, Virginia Bracing for Gun Rights Clash Monday

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The noisy clanking of tall sections of chain-link fencing being hastily erected around the Virginia Capitol grounds in Richmond last Thursday provided a backdrop to a session of the Commonwealth’s Senate as it began pushing through the first three of many bills related to restricting access to firearms, expanding background checks or banning certain rifles, handguns, shotguns and accessories.

Senator Bill Stanley, (R)-20th District, had the floor and he took the opportunity to chastise his colleagues in the Democratic Party. “Every amendment counts,” he said, referring to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. “The government doesn’t like any amendments, but we’re the only ones who stand here today with the authority, the right and the duty to defend them (the Bill of Rights).”

Stanley said the Democrats are “trying to throw the scarlet letter” on citizens who lawfully own firearms. “We’re creating a situation that doesn’t need to be created, in the same way that I look out these windows and I see chain-link fences surrounding this Capitol. Built by Thomas Jefferson. And for what? Out of fear,” Stanley said with a mix of passion and derision. “Y’all are afraid. I don’t see anybody on this floor, on that side, being worried about the unlawful possession of firearms, about the bad person who does someone ill or harm. Where are those bills? Your object, your subject is the lawful gun owner, who is not your problem.”

Against that scenario, Virginia is likely to see its largest rally, protest, assembly – whatever you want to call it – in a long time.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, Inc., has held a “Lobby Day” early in the session of every General Assembly for many years. The events have been modestly attended, traditionally. But 2020 isn’t a traditional year. Democrats took control of the Virginia House and Senate last November, with Democrat Governor Ralph Northam in the executive suite.

A deluge of firearms-related bills ensued, prompting near immediate backlash across the commonwealth. Backed by the VCDL, a movement began in Virginia localities to debate and vote on individual city and county preferences when it came to Second Amendment issues. In rapid fashion, more than 100 counties, cities and towns passed resolutions declaring themselves Second Amendment Sanctuaries, or Constitutional Counties. The upshot was they were declaring they wouldn’t support attacks on the Bill of Rights and wouldn’t allow local resources to be used to deprive citizens of those rights.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring calls the resolutions symbolic. Symbolic, maybe, but representative of a mood across a massive swath of the Old Dominion’s current real estate, certainly.

Now, tomorrow (Jan. 20) comes the 2020 VCDL Lobby Day, expected to attract tens of thousands, including nearly 100 busloads of people coming from not only Virginia but other states as well, to the capitol grounds. Citing what he called credible threats, gathered by intelligence, Northam declared a state of emergency and banned all firearms from Capitol Square. Fencing was erected and metal detection devices installed. Some reports say more than 1,300 police officers will be on duty, including state police, capitol police and City of Richmond police.

The ban on firearms pertains to the Capitol building, the General Assembly building and the Capitol grounds. The VCDL rally is scheduled to take place inside “the wire” (as it were). This prompted lively discussion on social media. Some are saying the entire rally should move outside the wire so that everybody, those unarmed and those choosing to carry, can be part of the event, going “old school,” basically using a soapbox and a bullhorn to get the message across. A fenced-in Capitol Square, devoid of anyone but police, would send a strong message, as well as a powerful visual.

The VCDL, though, is asking attendees, though, to strike a balance. Those who will be visiting senators and delegates inside the office buildings must be unarmed. They’re being encouraged to join the group inside the wire. Friends who choose to carry can stay outside the wire and remain vigilant, providing an overwatch of sorts.

The big fear is that, despite the pleading of VCDL, some agitators may be coming to the event with the intent on provoking violence, similar to the Charlottesville incident of a couple years ago. There are also concerns about agitators serving in double agent roles, pretending to be affiliated with groups who are pushing for a nonviolent, peaceful rally.

In the politics make for strange bedfellows arena, reportedly, a Virginia arm of ANTIFA has expressed interest in attending. Some reports state ANTIFA actually wants to lock arms with the pro-Second Amendment supporters, a concept organizers have rebuffed.

In a communique to VCDL members, the organization implored everyone to follow the temporary Capitol grounds rules.

“There is NO need for an act of civil disobedience to achieve standing for a court fight. We already have standing. We still will have our day in court to fully debate the governor's unconstitutional overreach in just a few short weeks,” was the message.

Senator Amanda Chase, (R)-11th District, warned attendees in a Jan. 17 social media posting that they could be getting set up.

“Does the Patriot Act ring a bell? Does the National Defense Authorization Act ring a bell?” she asked.

“If people show up wearing any kind of uniform, patch or other symbol on their clothing signifying they belong to a militia and something goes wrong, you could/will be held as a domestic terrorist. If anyone steps out of line, all it takes is one person, it may even be a government plant…if that plant does anything to disrupt the rally, you could/will be arrested as a domestic terrorist,” she added. “The Governor, using the media has already set the stage for this to happen. He has already laid the groundwork to make the entire movement look like insurrection.”

She concluded with, “Sic semper tyrannis” (the Virginia motto meaning, ‘Thus always to tyrants’), and an admonishment for attendees to, “keep your head on a swivel and know what's going on around you at all times.”

Northam has asked nonessential state employees to stay home. It is unknown how many businesses will remain open. The weather is supposed to be very cold by Virginia standards with morning lows in 20s with a stiff north wind. Services inside the Capitol Square are expected to be minimal. Attendees can expect long lines and, possibly, no food or water and no restrooms, except for maybe a few porta potties.

The Richmond Police Department said its law enforcement’s goal to ensure Lobby Day participants have the right to assemble, the right to free speech and the assurance of personal safety.

Citizens in Virginia have a right to “open carry” and the police asked that people bringing guns keep handguns holstered and long weapons on shoulder slings with the muzzle down.

Both law enforcement and event organizers are encouraging attendees to report suspicious activity or actions that are dangerous or potentially dangerous to the nearest officer or by calling 911 if no officer is present.

Here is an expected list of Lobby Day speakers, taken from a recent VCDL message:

• Stephen Willeford, the man who stopped a massacre at a church in Texas in 2017

• Antonia Okafo, who trains women college students to protect themselves with a firearm

• Dick Heller from the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of DC v. Heller

• Jan Morgan, National Founder of 2A Women

• Cam Edwards, Bearing Arms writer and host of the Cam & Co YouTube channel

• Jeff Katz, talkshow host on Richmond's powerhouse radio station WRVA

• Erich Pratt, Senior Vice-President of Gun Owners of America

• Sheriff Scott Jenkins of Culpeper County, willing to deputize thousands if necessary to save their gun rights

• Sheriff Danny Diggs of York County, pledging to stand strong against infringements on the right to keep and bear arms

• Anthony Myers, gun-rights activist from Suffolk

• Senator Amanda Chase

• Delegate Nick Freitas

• Delegate John McGuire



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