Gun rights rally draws 22,000 demontsrators, neo-Nazis arrested in Richmond
By Joseph Cotton | Staff Writer
The Virginia House Public Safety Committee Advanced several gun control bills Friday after a gun-rights rally ended peacefully on (Wednesday) . The rally saw around 22,000 demonstrators, some openly armed, from across the country gathered at the state capital of Richmond to protest.
The bill, endorsed by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, would limit handgun purchases to once in a thirty day period, mandate universal background checks on all public and private firearm sales, allow cities to ban guns in public building areas. The bill also includes a red flag clause that would allow authorities to temporarily seize guns from anyone deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
In reaction, many counties in Virginia have declared themselves as “Second Amendment sanctuaries” and state that they will not enforce gun control laws they believe are unconstitutional.
Sophomore Matt Dixon expressed concern in regard to the proposed gun laws. “I would be alright with (universal background checks),” said Dixon. “If your a private seller, I know its really easy to contact a gun store and have them do the background check for you.” He was a bit more ambivalent about red flag laws. He went on to say, “How do you find a conclusive way to deems someone a harm to themselves and others without demeaning their right as a citizen. (red flag laws) would have to be rigorous and well defined.
The protests were separated into two main areas. The first being the designated area where protesters could enter after passing through metal detectors. Those who brought firearms in solidarity stood in nearby streets.
Although the protest ended peacefully, tensions were high throughout. Northam declared a state of emergency to ban all weapons from the Capitol grounds in the days leading up to the event. Heavy security was present throughout the protests. The New York Times reported demonstrators wearing camouflage clothing and Carrying military-style rifles, shotguns, high caliber pistols. One man was seen with a .50 caliber sniper rifle.
Four arrests have been made in connection to the rally. Patrik Mathews, Brian Mark Lemly Jr., and William Garfield Bilbrough IV were arrested the Thursday before the gun rally started on federal felony charges including “transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony” and “transporting and harboring aliens”. The three are believed to have planned on attending the rally. Mikaela E. Beschler was arrested and charged with one felony count of wearing a mask in public.
Residents of Richmond felt the tension during the gun-rights rally. “We were definitely scared with there being firearms and everything,” said online masters student and Richmond resident Justin Keller, “My mom contacted me from Pennsylvania and told me to be careful.” He went on to say that he works in the city and lives 5 minutes away from the state capital where the rally took place.
University of Richman student Simon Curry was doing community service when the protest first started. “It was weird doing service and seeing AR-15s,” said Curry. “I’m sure it’s perfectly legal but it was definitely worrisome.”