A few hundred protesters gathered on a small patch of grass outside the Capitol Building for rally in favor of new gun control measures on Thursday.
In an email promoting the event last week Everytown for Gun Safety had promised to "flood the Capitol grounds with gun sense supporters," and said the protest would be "massive." Everytown did not provide an estimate on crowd size in their press release summarizing the event
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The protest, while small, was heavily attended by media. Cameras from many local and national news outlets set up toward the back of the crowd. International outlets, such as France24, also covered the event.
Prominent gun control activists and victims of gun violence gave speeches. Sens. Tim Kaine (D., Va.) and Mark Warner (D., Va.) both spoke to the gathering, as did Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Most of the speeches focused on passing legislation to extend FBI background checks to gun sales between private individuals.
"Background checks is our number one," Gitana Wasserman, a member of the Pennsylvania chapter of Moms Demand Action, told the Washington Free Beacon. "To stop the loopholes for gun shows and personal sales."
Many of the speakers at the event claimed there was little opposition from the American public to universal background checks. During his speech Sen. Kaine said gun manufacturers are behind what opposition there is. He said gun manufacturers are only interested in selling guns to as many people as possible.
"The voice against background records checks isn't the voice really that's just about background records checks," he said. "I mean, it is largely fueled by gun manufacturers and funded by gun manufacturers who basically have one policy. And that's sell as many weapons to whoever you can, whenever you can, wherever you can, in whatever frequency you can."
"But that's not what Americans believe."
After his speech advocating for expanding background checks, Governor McAuliffe addressed critics who accused him of exploiting the recent shooting in Roanoke, Va.
"This is an issue I talk about everyday," he told reporters. "The Republicans criticized me and said I talked about it after the recent tragedy. If not now, when? I talk about it everyday."
"When people are paying attention is the time."
When asked about the National Rifle Association's (NRA) assertion that a majority of Americans oppose gun control McAuliffe pointed to polling supporting his position. "I quoted Pew, who I think is a very legitimate organization, 85 percent," he told the Free Beacon. "I've seen reports that, actually, a majority of the NRA members actually support it. You know, it wasn't our poll. It’s just based on information that's out there."
He then questioned whether the NRA's opposition to universal background checks was smart. "I wish the NRA, if they were smart, they would come out and do it," he said. "I think it would actually help their organization."
"I just don't understand it. I've done it. It's a simple procedure. Everybody should have to do it. We've already had 88 deaths a day, 800 a year."
"When's it going to stop?"
McAuliffe said universal background checks wouldn't stop all gun crimes but would be worth it anyway. "Now background checks won't stop all but let me tell you this: if it stops one, then it's worth doing it," he said. "Three minutes of your time is not worth saving a life?"
In his speech McAuliffe said some booths at gun shows feature banners advertising the fact that they don't do background checks. When asked by a reporter which gun show he was referring to, he said you could find the signs at any gun show. "You can go to any gun show and they have signs," the governor said. "Come with me to them."
When pressed on whether he had personally seen such signs McAuliffe did not respond.
McAuliffe, Kaine, Warner, and a number of the protesters left before most of the gun violence victims spoke.