Over the past few years, gun control policy in Virginia has evolved considerably, and with it, pro-gun activism. On Monday, MLK Day 2022, a handful of armed activists participated in a yearly tradition of armed activism nearby the State Capitol, challenging law enforcement to test the limits of the new policy.
Only two years ago in the same space, tens of thousands of armed activists assembled to oppose then-Virginia Democratic Governor Northam, who had been inaugurated just one week earlier.
In anticipation of the event, Northam had declared a state of emergency, banning firearms from the state capitol grounds.
Activists ended up gathering outside of the fenced area, while some went through security checkpoints to go closer, unarmed.
“We will not comply” was among the most common chants of the day.
The event was organized by the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League – or “VCDL” – which takes positions similar to the NRA, generally supporting gun rights and law enforcement. Every MLK day, they hold their “lobby day” where they encourage members to lobby against gun control, and armed activists to rally outside.
At the time, Virginia had “state pre-emption” laws in place, which prevented localities from passing stricter gun control measures than the state itself. After Governor Northam signed a law repealing state preemption, Richmond passed new ordinances banning guns at protests that have – or “should have” a permit – and magazines of 20 rounds or more carries by individuals lacking a concealed carry permit.
In light of the new ordinances, the VCDL cancelled their January 2021 event. Instead, that year, a diverse range of pro-gun groups paraded through Richmond, openly thwarting the new ordinances.
Police did not intervene to enforce the new ordinances.
During 2021 however, state law was passed establishing the area surrounding the state capitol as an indefinite gun-free zone, regardless of permits or licenses. This put the issue of enforcement into the hands of state police.
2022 and beyond
On January 15, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin was inaugurated.
On MLK Day 2022, only a small handful of groups returned to challenge the law. “Liberate RVA” – a libertarian group based in Richmond – walked past state troopers into the gun-free zone. They were quickly intercepted, and forced to leave.
The “Virginia Kekoas” – a boogaloo group – and BLM757 also attempted to enter the gun free zone armed, but were intercepted.
State police seemed to express sympathy with the group’s beliefs on guns, while enforcing the law.
A handful of VCDL members showed up unarmed, expressing their faith that compliance with the law and democratic participation would be more effective than challenging police.
The groups ultimately held a “Patriot Food Drive” asking for donations to bring to a local charity.
With a Republican governor in place, the groups express some hope that momentum for their cause may turn in a new direction.
While thousands chanted “We will not comply” in 2020, declining participation amidst slowly evolving gun control may be seen as a victory for gun control activists. With new bills to expand gun rights being considered at the house of delegates, that could change in 2022.