Residents of Richmond, Virginia, are bracing for a massive gun rights rally at the state Capitol, as Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, has declared a state of emergency amid fears that Monday's demonstration might turn violent, reports NBC News.
Organisers and officials estimate that thousands will converge for the event, with no major counter-protests reportedly planned.
Gun safety groups also cancelled their annual MLK Day vigil at the Capitol, scheduled to begin after the gun rights rally.
The groups referred to Gov. Ralph Northam, citing "ongoing, credible threats to public safety that have been promoted and encouraged by gun extremists."
We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies of threats of violence surrounding the demonstration planned for Monday, January 20. This includes extremist rhetoric similar to what has been seen before major incidents, such as Charlottesville in 2017.— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) January 15, 2020
In his executive order, Northam temporarily banned guns and other weapons from the Capitol grounds.
In other additional measures, the Federal Aviation Administration restricted flights over the Capitol after the Governor said weaponised drones could be deployed Monday.
State, capitol and city police intend to be out in full force to ensure everyone entering Capitol Square is searched, as law enforcement officials have been monitoring the internet to scan for red flag alerts.
NBC News cites residents as saying they were concerned about the rally, with many planning to avoid Capitol Square, as some feared a repeat of the violence that spiralled at the "Unite the Right" rally in August 2017 in Charlottesville, where a 32-year-old counter protester was killed by a rally participant, generating violent clashes around the city.
President Donald Trump weighed in on Saturday, tweeting:
"Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia. That's what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away."
Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away. Republicans will win Virginia in 2020. Thank you Dems!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 17, 2020
Virginia Facing New Gun Bills
The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL)’s annual Lobby Day usually draws several hundred pro-gun rights advocates to Richmond to lobby their interests to members of the state government, with the National Rifle Association holding a separate lobby day on 13 January.
What dramatically altered the atmosphere of this year’s event was the fact that the Virginia legislature, now under Democratic control, is on the verge of passing a host of gun control bills.
A bill requiring background checks on all firearms purchases and transfers;
A bill limiting the number of handguns that can be purchased per month;
A bill to permit localities to ban guns from specific events and venues;
“Red flag” legislation that would permit law enforcement to take guns from people deemed to be risks to themselves or others.
The legislative push was sparked in part by the mass shooting on 31 May 2019, when a disgruntled city employee shot twelve and wounded four people at a municipal building in the Princess Anne area of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Another factor were the results of 2019 elections in November that saw all three seats in Virginia's House and Senate flipped from Republican to Democrat after $2.5 million had been spent in the state by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group aligned with billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, thus outspending the Virginia-based National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun rights groups, CNN reported at the time, citing Everytown officials.
As a result, the Democrats claimed control of the state legislature for the first time in more than two decades.
Once dubbed a “gun rights haven” and home to the National Rifle Association headquarters, Virginia has comparatively loose gun laws, permitting open carry and not requiring a permit to purchase or possess a rifle, shotgun, or handgun.
In a new Gallup poll, 74% of respondents see gun policy as being either “extremely important” or “very important” to their vote for president in 2020.— Everytown (@Everytown) January 16, 2020
It's more true than ever that gun safety is a winning issue. https://t.co/h7quxTILtY
The four gun control bills are set to mark a dramatic change for the state.