There was no repeat of Charlottesville. There was no violence. Fears of mayhem at the rally on Monday organised by gun activists in Richmond Virginia, ended spectacularly a peaceful affair.
More than 22,000 armed gun-rights activists peacefully filled the streets around Virginia’s capitol building to protest gun-control legislation making its way through the newly Democratic-controlled state legislature.
Despite fears that neo-Nazis or other extremists would piggyback on the rally to stoke unrest like the violence at a 2017 demonstration by white nationalists in Charlottesville that killed a counter-protester, the Capitol Police reported just one arrest, a 21-year-old woman taken into custody for wearing a bandana over her face after twice being warned that masks were not allowed.
Chants of “USA! USA! USA!” and others praising President Donald Trump reverberated as men and women carrying handguns and rifles squeezed into the streets around the Virginia state capitol, standing shoulder-to-shoulder for three blocks in all directions.
There was a heavy security presence after Governor Ralph Northam banned carrying weapons onto the capitol grounds and the FBI earlier last week arrested three alleged neo-Nazis who it said intended to use the event to spark a race war.
But by 1 p.m. ET, nearly all rally-goers had left the area, with volunteers picking up trash left behind. The Capitol Police estimated the crowd at 22,000 people.
Activists at the rally organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League argued that Virginia was trying to infringe on their right to bear arms, which is protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“What’s going on here, if not stopped, will spread to other states,” said Teri Horne, who had traveled to Virginia from her home in Texas with her Smith & Wesson rifle and .40-caliber handgun. “They will come for our guns in other states if we don’t stop them in Virginia.”
Northam, a Democrat, has vowed to push through new gun control laws and is backing a package of eight bills, including universal background checks, a “red flag” law, a ban on assault-style rifles and a limit of one handgun-a-month purchase. It does not call for confiscating guns currently legally owned.