Tens of thousands gathered in Richmond, Va., on Monday to oppose new gun-control measures being pushed by Democrats in the state legislature.
The event’s peaceful procession marked a stark contrast to mainstream media portrayals of a rally filled with white nationalists and others prepared to do violence. The day’s rally concluded without a single incidence of mayhem or civil unrest.
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Music, shared food, and chants of "USA!" made for a festive, fraternal atmosphere as marchers displayed their support for Second Amendment rights in Virginia. The march has been put on annually by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), a pro-gun-rights group that has been at the center of the controversy around new gun-control legislation. Monday's protest, however, was by far the largest turnout, as gun-owning Virginians gathered from across the Commonwealth to advocate for their rights.
The culmination of two months of grassroots efforts throughout the state, Monday's march showcases a gun-rights movement that is still gaining momentum. The massive turnout of constituents could further sway newly elected Democrats from more moderate areas of Virginia against the most aggressive gun-control proposals. A similar march, organized last week by the NRA, also drew thousands—all of whom were on hand to watch as state Senate Democrats dropped their AR-15 confiscation bill and moderated several other gun-control measures in committee.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the VCDL, told the Washington Free Beacon that the rally was meant to send a simple message to lawmakers.
"We want to send a signal to the general assembly to walk away from all this gun control," Van Cleave said. "Walk away from that. And go do other things."
Despite predictions to the contrary from many in the mainstream media, displays of violence were wholly absent from Monday's protest. The generally festive atmosphere belied the fears, promoted by media outlets and Democratic politicians, that the event had been co-opted by violent, white-nationalist extremists. The Free Beacon did not witness any acts of violence or shows of racism while walking through the crowds at the event; instead, attendees were focused entirely on gun-rights advocacy.
Mark, an African-American attendee who declined to provide his last name, drove several hours from Northern Virginia to attend the rally and said he was happy to be at the event and was bothered by the negative media coverage in the lead up to it.
"For me, as an African American on MLK Day, it's critically important that we preserve the ability to defend ourselves and our loved ones," he told the Free Beacon. "And I will not allow anyone to push a narrative that there are racist people at these rallies. It’s not true."
Asked by the Free Beacon what bills on offer in the state legislature they most opposed, attendees most frequently cited a "red flag" law, which permits a judge to order a temporary seizure of a person's firearms. Many Virginia gun owners are skittish about the bill—one protester worried there was "no co-legislation that would prevent abuse," while Van Cleave said it violates "half of the Bill of Rights, if not more."
Attendees did find their gun rights constrained in one way—a Friday evening order from the state supreme court left in place Governor Ralph Northam's (D.) ban on carrying firearms in the area around the state capitol. The VCDL, which had brought suit to try to enjoin the order, told its supporters over the weekend to abide by Northam's decision.
"We still will have our day in court to fully debate the governor's unconstitutional overreach in just a few short weeks," the group told supporters at the time.