By Brandon Martin
About 100 Patrick and Henry county residents joined the ranks of the 130,000 who lined the streets surrounding Virginia’s State Capitol Building in Richmond on Jan. 20 to rally in support of the Second Amendment.
The crowd estimate was according to a Virginia State Trooper assigned to work one of several gates at the rally. The Richmond Police Department also helped man gates. According to other reports, the Capitol Police estimated the crowd at 22,000.
Following months of debate in localities across the Commonwealth about gun rights, supporters for “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” came from both inside and outside of Virginia to petition their legislators during the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s annual Lobby Day.
“They always lobby on Martin Luther King Jr. Day because we are able to get off of work and it’s an exceptionally big day because of all the anti-gun laws that our Democrat-controlled government is trying to push,” said Wren Williams, unit chair for the Patrick County Republican Committee (PCRC).
PCRC was responsible for organizing the two bus-loads of activists that gathered from Patrick and Henry counties, with some even making the trip from North Carolina in a show of solidarity.
Williams said that “we had about a hundred” people to ride the buses, which well exceeded the initial 50 that organizers were expecting. Many other Patrick and Henry county residents traveled to Richmond in their own vehicles to participate in the peaceful event.
“We want to show support for everybody here that supports the Second Amendment. Traditionally, what you would do is actually go into the building at Capitol Square and meet with or talk to the legislators,” Williams said. “A lot of them have decided that they weren’t going to come here today and that they weren’t going to listen.”
Others in attendance also said they were dismayed by the absence of government representatives.
Gov. Ralph Northam “and this Democrat legislature are not interested in what we have to say on the subject of the Second Amendment and their overreach,” Culpeper Sheriff Scott Jenkins said. “As a Virginia Sheriff, I know it is you, the citizens, that elect us to office. We cannot allow for our Second Amendment to be further violated. I would choose to deputize thousands of my citizens to see that we are able to keep our firearms. Law enforcement is on your side.”
There were multiple petitions at the event to recall Northam, which would require 262,000 signatures to gain a hearing.
According to Williams, “if you bring this many people into the capital of Virginia, it’s showing them that it’s important to us and that’s going to make an impression.”
Second Amendment supporter Brandon Wear said he thinks that proposed actions by Northam are “wholly unconstitutional.”
“It’s incredibly frustrating to watch legislators ignore the will of thousands of Virginians and I came here to see everyone make their voices heard,” he said.
While he acknowledges that “it’s natural to be concerned with gun safety,” Wear also said that “some well-meaning individuals simply go too far with their beliefs.”
“Some of them (Democrats) say they only want reasonable gun control and then there is the people that are much more aggressive about it,” he said. “Some of the bills like Del. Levine’s bill outlaws any gun that can accept a magazine larger than ten rounds. Well, that’s most semi-automatic rifles. There is a lot of concern that what they are presenting as reasonable gun control is very aggressive and much more of a violation.”
Wear also said that there is potential room for the two parties to come together.
“I think there is a way to craft some threat assessment programs,” he said. “Some programs used by law enforcement and secret service have been highly effective. There is always bi-partisan support to fight crime.”
Wear paused for a moment to clarify what he says is a misconception about gun violence adding that “I think it’s important that we keep in mind that most gun violence comes from domestic violence, gang activities and smaller homicides that aren’t mass shootings.”
While walking the rolling hills outside of the Capitol Building, chants of “U.S.A.” and “Northam out” could be heard reverberating throughout the energetic crowd. Several people addressed the crowds in presentations that concluded by noon. Many in the crowd were armed, and many cleaned up before leaving, picking up litter from the streets and scooping it into waiting trash bags.
“I’ve never seen a crowd from all over the state supporting one cause like this,” said Matthew Holt, vice-chairman of PCRC.
“I’m really pleased to see all this support,” Williams said. “If you get together 3,000 people, then you can ignore that but with this many people…you’re basically shutting down Richmond. There are helicopters everywhere, police everywhere…it’s just impressive. This is important and we just want to make sure that you know it.”
Many gun-rights advocates could be seen carrying their weapons as they lined the streets but the event remained mostly peaceful with no signs of violence. Those carrying guns weren’t; however, allowed in the restricted area closest to the Capitol Building.
“Everybody here, so far, that I’ve met has been super friendly and super encouraging,” Holt said. “It’s been unreal, something that I wouldn’t expect. I was expecting it to be a lot worse than what it is but it hasn’t been that in the slightest.”
Though Holt said that he doesn’t own a firearm himself, he also said that the Second Amendment is crucial to protect the other amendments.
“People need to realize that the Second Amendment protects all of our other amendments in the United States,” he said. “If we give up our Second Amendment, it won’t be long and we will have to give up our first of free speech. We wouldn’t even be able to do this today. The government wouldn’t allow us to.”
Charlie Bowman was among those to make the trek. On Wednesday, he shared his thoughts about the experience.
“What we had was … walking and talking, shaking hands with each other, shaking the hands of law enforcement that were there protecting the city, people shouting USA at the top of their lungs, cleaning up trash that was dropped. I want to say the wind had a part in this, leaving it as good or better than we found it, standing up for what is our right because law makers don’t see how the common man lives or cares, and we have that right to protect home and property if invaded by friend or foe,” Bowman said.
“We saw guns. Many and plenty. Nobody (was) hurt,” Bowman said. “It was like a family get together in the streets of Richmond with some old friends you hadn’t seen in a while. We came together as a neighbor, as a family, as a state, as one.”