Gun Rights Activists Descend On Virginia Capitol

Jan 20, 2020
Originally published on January 31, 2020 7:28 am

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Gun rights advocates are heading home after today's massive pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va.

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ERICH PRATT: I have one simple message. No one should ever again vote for the party of gun control - never [see POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION below].

CHANG: That is Jeff Katz, a Richmond radio host, speaking at the rally. Virginia's governor had declared a state of emergency and banned weapons, including guns, on the Statehouse grounds. But the day passed calmly. NPR's Sarah McCammon spent the day there and has this report.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Pam Liner was up before dawn this morning, standing outside the Virginia state Capitol grounds in frigid January temperatures to be among the first in line for today's gun rights rally.

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PAM LINER: I'm here to support Virginians. I was born in Virginia. I haven't lived here in 40 years.

MCCAMMON: Liner says she left her home near Valdosta, Ga., on Saturday to come here because she's worried that what's happening in Virginia could spread nationwide.

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LINER: I'm here to support Virginia because whatever way Virginia goes, wherever Democrats are in control, it's going to go the same way everywhere else.

MCCAMMON: Liner says she's concerned about a slate of proposed restrictions Virginia lawmakers are considering. They include universal background checks, bans on high-capacity magazines and so-called red flag laws that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns from people deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others. Democratic Governor Ralph Northam called a special session on guns last year in response to the mass shooting that killed a dozen victims in Virginia Beach, but Republican leaders quickly ended the session. Now, with Democrats newly in control of the legislature, several of those bills appear poised to become law. And gun rights activists are pushing back.

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SCOTT JENKINS: Governor Northam and this Democrat legislature are not interested in hearing what we have to say on the subject of the Second Amendment and their overreach.

MCCAMMON: That's Scott Jenkins, the sheriff in Culpeper County, Va., one of dozens of municipalities in the commonwealth that have declared themselves sanctuaries for gun rights in response to the Democratic proposals. Jenkins says as sheriff, he will not enforce any new gun laws he considers unconstitutional and will do what he can to get around them.

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JENKINS: I will choose to deputize thousands of my citizens to see that they're able to keep their lawfully owned firearms and not be disarmed.

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JENKINS: We have many good men and women serving as sheriffs in commonwealth (unintelligible) who have strong feelings just like myself and have their own ideas of how they should step forward and protect your rights. I ask that you all return to your homes and ask your elected officials exactly where is the line that they will not cross.

MCCAMMON: Other speakers suggested there may be other means of pushing back against gun restrictions.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Let's have a round of applause for Stephen Willeford.

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MCCAMMON: Stephen Willeford is the kind of good guy with a gun that advocates often point to as a solution to gun violence. In 2017, he used a semi-automatic rifle to stop a mass shooter at his church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

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STEPHEN WILLEFORD: Now all of America's eyes are on you, Virginia, wondering whether you will let your rights be encroached upon.

MCCAMMON: Willeford told the crowd about armed American colonists pushing back against British troops and said he hopes modern-day America is a long way from that kind of revolutionary violence. But standing in front of the Virginia Statehouse, Willeford issued this warning.

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WILLEFORD: We are here coming in peace. We are not the aggressors. But we will not comply with bans, registration or confiscation. We will not comply.

MCCAMMON: Despite reports of extremist groups converging on the event, there was no serious violence in Virginia's capital - at least none today.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Richmond.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: This story incorrectly identified a speaker at the rally as Jeff Katz. In fact the comments were made by Erich Pratt of Gun Owners of America.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.