RICHMOND, Va. — As gun rights activists, white nationalists and militia groups prepare to rally at the state Capitol on Monday to protest proposed gun control laws, residents are praying it won’t be a repeat of the violent 2017 rally in Charlottesville that ended in a woman’s death.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, which organizes the annual gun rights rally, said it wants a “peaceful event,” but the crowd is expected to be larger than usual because Democrats took control of the Legislature last year and are proposing several gun control bills that would limit handgun purchases and require background checks, among other regulations.
The proposals come after a mass shooting in May in Virginia Beach, in which a disgruntled city employee killed 12 people in a municipal building.
“I’m very worried,” Francisca Benavides, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, said.
Benavides, who’s studying photography at the 31,000-student public research university, wanted to attend the rally to document it but is having second thoughts after Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency last week in anticipation of the event. He said “credible intelligence” indicated the rally would draw armed militias and hate groups.
“All my friends are trying to convince me not to attend,” Benavides said, adding she was reassured when Northam temporarily banned guns and other weapons from the grounds of the Capitol, and the state Supreme Court struck down the rally organizers’ challenge to the order.