Predictions of Doom Fall Flat as Virginia Pro-Gun Rally Proceeds Peacefully

Police say open carry crowd was 'nice and quiet,' 'no issues whatsoever'

A VCDL bus in Richmond, Virginia on January 18, 2021 / Facebook
January 19, 2021

A caravan demonstration held by one of Virginia's leading Second Amendment groups went off without a hitch despite dire safety warnings from opponents and targeted suspensions by tech companies. 

On Monday, the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) peacefully rode through the streets of Richmond to oppose Democrats' new gun-control legislation. Joe Macenka, a spokesman for the Virginia Capitol Police, told the Washington Free Beacon the VCDL event was "nice and quiet," and there were "no issues whatsoever." 

VCDL members drove cars adorned with the group's slogan, "Guns Save Lives," and other pro-gun messages through the streets near the statehouse in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions, defying a smear campaign launched by opponents of the rally. The peaceful protest undercuts a narrative advanced by Democratic politicians, reporters, and gun-control advocates that Second Amendment events present an elevated risk to public safety as the country deals with the aftermath of the Capitol riot. 

Democratic officials at the state and local level implemented strict security measures in the leadup to the caravan event. The statehouse was locked down and boarded up. Streets were closed. All permits for events during the day were canceled. 

"We have been planning for weeks about [VCDL] Lobby Day," Richmond mayor Levar Stoney (D.) told Virginia Business before the event. "The violence and the insurrectionist activities we saw at the nation’s Capitol will not be tolerated in Virginia’s Capitol." 

The country's leading gun-control organizations also called on Virginia's Democratic-controlled legislature to ban all forms of open carry throughout the state, citing the riot at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., along with last year's peaceful VCDL Lobby Day. 

"We’ve seen armed intimidation at the Capitol for years," Lori Haas, Virginia director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told the Washington Post on Friday. "After the violent insurrection that happened last week—which would have been more deadly without D.C.’s strong gun laws, including a ban on open carry—it’s time that Virginia … ban open carry in public." 

Neither Haas nor Stoney returned requests for comment in the aftermath of the peaceful protest. 

Philip Van Cleave, VCDL president, acknowledged concerns stemming from the U.S. Capitol riot but said his group has always been peaceful. He likened the dire warnings from politicians and activists to "fearmongering," no different than the predictions of violence that preceded the group's 2020 Lobby Day.

"It comes as no surprise to us that it was a peaceful event," Van Cleave said. "[Gun-control activists] are looking to fear to try to enact gun control. And it's not selling very well." 

VCDL's history of peaceful activism has not stopped the group from being targeted and silenced by tech companies. Van Cleave said VCDL's Mailchimp account and his personal Facebook account were suspended for unspecified reasons a week before the caravan event. Neither had been restored despite the peacefulness of the event. Mailchimp and Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

"It's getting old," Van Cleave said. "It's there to chill us from actually exercising our rights. They want us to stay home. They want us to be quiet."