RICHMOND, Va. (AP)- An estimated 23,000 gun-rights activists rallied peacefully at the Virginia Capitol on Monday under a heavy police presence, protesting plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun-control legislation.
Despite the fears of Democratic lawmakers of violence and a heavy barrage of unfriendly media coverage, the rally concluded uneventfully around noon, and attendees spilled into the streets, chanting and waving signs.
At the end of the day, one woman was arrested for wearing a mask. It was the day’s only arrest.
The Richmond protesters came out in the thousands despite the chilly temperature to send a message to legislators, they said.
“The government doesn’t run us, we run the government,” said Kem Regik, a 20-year-old private security officer from northern Virginia who brought a white flag with a picture of a rifle captioned, “Come and take it.”
Northam was a particular focus of the protester’s wrath. One poster showed his face superimposed on Adolf Hitler’s body.
Many of the protesters wore camouflage. Some waved flags with messages of support for President Donald Trump.
Trump, in turn, tweeted support for their goals.
“The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights,” he tweeted. “This is just the beginning. Don’t let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020!
The Virginia State Police, the Virginia Capitol Police and the Richmond Police had a strong presence, with officers deploying on rooftops, others patrolling in cars and on bicycles.
Authorities were looking to avoid a repeat of the violence that erupted in Charlottesville during one of the largest gatherings of white supremacists and other far-right groups in a decade. Attendees brawled with counterprotesters, and an avowed white supremacist drove his car into a crowd, killing a woman and injuring dozens more. Law enforcement officials faced scathing criticism for what both the white supremacist groups and anti-racism protesters said was a passive response.
In contrast to Charlottesville, there was little sign of any counterprotesters challenging the gun-rights activists.
Police limited access to Capitol Square to only one entrance, and a long line formed to get into the rally zone. Thousands more stood outside on nearby streets, where the governor’s order didn’t apply and they were free to carry weapons.
PJ Hudson, 31, a truck driver from Richmond, wore an AR-15 and posed for pictures.
“I love this. This is like the Super Bowl for the Second Amendment right here,” said Hudson, whose shirt said “Black guns matter.”
An RV festooned with Trump material and selling Trump merchandise parked in front of the line to the square, but was booted by a police officer shortly after it parked Monday: “You got two minutes before it’s towed. Clock’s ticking.”
Advocates also filled the hallways of the building that houses lawmakers’ offices. One couple, Jared and Marie March, traveled from Floyd County, over three hours west of Richmond, to meet with lawmakers.
“Guns are a way of life where we live,” said Marie March, who was concerned about a proposed red-flag law which she said would allow citizens to be stripped of their guns due to “subjective criteria.” A proposal to establish universal background checks amounted to “more Big Brother,” she said. “”We just feel like we need to push government back into their rightful spot.”
Locally, it was reported three busses carried people from the Eastern Shore to Richmond. One bus departed Four Corners Plaza in Onley, and two busses departed from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.