Despite fears that white supremacists and fringe militia groups could turn a gun-rights rally at the Virginia Capitol violent, tens of thousands of activists from around the country rallied peacefully Monday in Richmond to protest plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun-control legislation, the Associated Press reports. The mood was largely festive, with rally-goers chanting “USA!” and waving signs denouncing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
Many protesters chose not to enter the designated rally zone, where Northam had imposed a temporary weapons ban, and instead packed surrounding streets, many dressed in tactical gear and camouflage and carrying military-style rifles as they cheered on the speakers. An estimated 22,000 people attended, according to authorities, who said one woman was arrested on felony charge of wearing a mask in public. Democratic lawmakers said the rally wouldn’t impact their plans to pass gun-control measures, including universal background checks and a one-handgun-purchase-a-month limit. Democrats say tightening Virginia’s gun laws will make communities safer and help prevent mass shootings like the one last year in Virginia Beach, where a dozen people were killed in a municipal building. Monday’s rally was organized by an influential grassroots gun-rights group, the Virginia Citizens Defense League. The group holds a yearly rally at the Capitol, typically a low-key event with a few hundred gun enthusiasts listening to speeches from a handful of Republican lawmakers. But this year’s event was unprecedented. Second Amendment groups have identified the state as a rallying point for the fight against what they see as a national erosion of gun rights.
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