As Virginia Governor Pushes New Gun Control Measures, Capitol Braces for Mass Protests

As Virginia Governor Pushes New Gun Control
Measures, Capitol Braces for Mass Protests. Backed by Virginia’s first Democratic-controlled
legislature in over 20 years, Governor Ralph Northam vowed this week to push through new
gun-control laws, angering gun-rights advocates who plan to respond with a rally of thousands
of armed citizens. It is unclear how many people will attend
the Jan. 20 rally in Richmond. The legislative bills that Northam’s administration
is backing include universal background checks on gun sales, a ban on semi-automatic type
rifles, and passing “red flag” laws that would allow courts and local law enforcement
to remove guns from people deemed a risk to communities. It is not Northam’s first effort at tightening
the state’s gun laws. He called a special legislative session last summer after the
massacre of 12 people in Virginia Beach, but the Republicans who then controlled it refused
to vote on his proposals. “The measures I proposed did not receive
a hearing,” Northam said in an address when newly elected lawmakers first convened on
Wednesday. “Virginians watched. They saw what happened, and they were appalled. So
they changed the legislature.” The change in legislative control has made
Virginia a key target for people on both sides of the gun-rights debate, one of America’s
most polarizing issues. The Virginia Citizens Defense League, which
is organizing the rally, hopes that a large turnout by gun-rights proponents, most of
whom will be openly carrying weapons as allowed by state law, will persuade lawmakers not
to back the measures, according to materials posted online by the group. Its representatives did not respond to multiple
requests for comment this week. Since the election, some officials in nearly
all of Virginia’s 95 counties have declared they would not enforce new gun laws, calling
themselves “sanctuary cities” for gun rights – adopting a term first used by localities
opposed to harsh treatment of illegal immigrants. The idea has quickly spread across the United
States, with at least 200 local governments in 16 states passing such measures. Joe Macenka, a spokesman for the Virginia
Capitol police, said the force has had several meetings with rally organizers. “They are very interested in having a positive
outcome for the rally,” Macenka said. “They understand that if you want to have success
in influencing legislation inside the general assembly, it would behoove you to have a positive
situation outside.” State police earlier this month spent two
hours briefing Northam on preparations. Macenka acknowledged that the “great unknown”
was how many people and groups not connected to the organizers would attend.

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