Pro-gun advocates gathered in Richmond, Va. to peacefully protest legislation regarding restrictions on guns in the state. The proposed gun-restriction legislation included background checks and red flag laws. Around 22,000 people attended the event, according to CNN.
Virginia annually holds a “Lobby Day,” but Monday, Jan. 20 was the first time there were concerns about safety. Amid fears of the protest becoming dangerous, Governor Ralph Northam issued a state of emergency and banned all weapons on state capitol grounds, where the lobbying would take place. The weekend before the event, authorities in Virginia arrested three members of a white supremacist group who were planning on attending. There was heavy security at the gun rally, including police presence in the crowd and on rooftops. Wanting to distance themselves from the event, the National Rifle Association held an event in Virginia a week prior.
Despite the large turnout, Virginia legislature voted to pass red flag laws, which allow families to petition the state court for removal of firearms from a potentially harmful owner. Virginia is the 18th state to adopt red flag laws.
Julia Mattis, a sophomore digital cinema major, first heard about the rally on Twitter.
“There were articles included in support of the rally, but also a large number of tweets in protest of the rally happening in the first place,” Mattis said. “I know that red flag laws have become pretty controversial in recent years due to the fact that some believe these laws are overstepping the personal liberties of gun owners … I think red flag laws are a step in the right direction in terms of gun control.”
Cory Rogers, a sophomore biology major, said, “The benefit of the second amendment is that we can protect ourselves and our families from harm’s way or from an overreaching government, as warned in the Constitution.” To Rogers, the fact that the rally turned out peacefully “shows that law abiding Americans with guns are not trying to bully anyone but are, rather, simply protecting themselves.”
Junior communications major Armando Hernandez focused on the role of the media in the days leading up to the protest. “Particularly users on Twitter will try to bend [the narrative], but the user I was watching on YouTube was trying to be more on both sides and focus on the effects that would happen afterwards,” Hernandez said. “Modern media and any other American media are trying to manipulate and have their own agenda … the media is doing that a lot— hyping things up to be worse than it is.”
Across the state, multiple sheriffs have declared their cities “Second Amendment Sanctuaries.” They will not be enforcing gun restrictions.
“I think my biggest takeaway from the event is just that the issue of gun control is not going away anytime soon,” Mattis said. With the legislature acting in direct opposition to the protesters wishes, it is likely the conversation about gun control and representation in the state is only getting started.