Angered by weapons ban, organizers urge thousands to attend Virginia gun rally


(Reuters) – Organizers of a Virginia gun rally urged thousands of people to attend Monday’s event protesting Democrats’ push to stiffen the state’s gun laws after its top court upheld the governor’s emergency ban on weapons at the rally grounds.

In a statement late Friday, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun rights group organizing the rally in Richmond, urged 10,000 people to attend the rally at the Capitol grounds unarmed in accordance with the governor’s ban.

The emailed statement also called on tens of thousands more to stand with their weapons immediately outside the designated rally grounds to show support for Americans’ right to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution.

“For every one gun owner on the Capitol grounds, we need another two to five people outside,” the organizers wrote. “Those doing so can be legally armed.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday said he was temporarily banning all weapons from the area around the Capitol ahead of the demonstration, and the Virginia Supreme Court upheld that ban on Friday.

President Donald Trump backed the rally organizers in a Twitter post on Friday in which he said the U.S. Constitution was under attack by recent gun control measures in Virginia, a state that Hilary Clinton won in 2016 and where Democrats took full control of the state legislature for the first time in a generation in November.

“Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia,” Trump wrote in the post, referring to the amendment in the Bill of Rights that gives Americans the right to keep and bear firearms. “That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away.”

Gun-control activists have reported a growing number of online death threats as the lawmakers press on and ahead of Monday’s rally, which authorities are trying to keep from becoming violent.

Militias, neo-Nazis and other groups have vowed to attend and police say they are expecting several thousand people.

The Virginia Senate late on Thursday passed bills to require background checks on all firearms sales, limit handgun purchases to one a month, and restore local governments’ right to ban weapons from public buildings and other venues.

Both Virginia legislative houses are also expected to pass “red flag” laws that would allow courts and local law enforcement to remove guns from people deemed a risk to communities, among other measures.

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Supporters of more restrictive gun laws say they would help decrease the number of people killed by firearms in the United States each year. Gun-rights activists assert that the constitution guarantees their right to possess any firearm.

On Thursday, the FBI arrested three members of a small neo-Nazi group who authorities said hoped to ignite a race war through violence at the Richmond rally, reminiscent of a 2017 white supremacist rally in nearby Charlottesville.

That rally proved a critical moment in the rise of the “alt-right,” a loose alignment of fringe groups centered on white nationalism and emboldened by Trump’s 2016 election. Trump was criticized from the left and right for initially saying there were “fine people on both sides” of the dispute between neo-Nazis and their opponents at the rally.

Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler and Daniel Wallis

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