Gov. Ralph Northam is expected Wednesday to impose a ban on firearms in Capitol Square, days before a rally Monday to oppose gun control legislation that is expected to draw tens of thousands of gun-rights supporters to Richmond.
The Associated Press, citing two state officials it said were briefed on Northam’s plans, reported that Northam will declare a temporary emergency barring all weapons from Capitol Square.
Northam is expected discuss the move Wednesday afternoon during a security briefing in Richmond.
Northam’s action comes more than two years after the deadly August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in which white nationalists clashed with counterprotesters. Heather Heyer was killed and more than 30 others injured when James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of counterdemonstrators.
A review conducted for the city of Charlottesville faulted government and law enforcement officials at multiple levels. It found that “the planning and coordination breakdowns prior to August 12 produced disastrous results.”
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate on Friday moved to ban firearms from the state Capitol building and the Pocahontas Building where the legislature conducts much of its business. Those rules took effect Friday at midnight. But that ban did not apply to the Capitol grounds, as Northam’s will.
“Our goal is to keep everyone safe and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said of that decision last week.
Both bans come as tensions rise across Virginia over efforts by the legislature’s new Democratic majority to impose new restrictions on guns.
Northam’s administration has thrown its weight behind eight legislative proposals, including a ban on assault weapons, a law requiring universal background checks for gun purchases, and a law to limit handgun purchases to one a month, among other measures.
The gun-rights rally comes on the legislature’s traditional lobby day, which coincides with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday because many Virginians are off work and can come to Richmond to petition lawmakers.
Democrats and some Republicans have expressed concerns about potential security problems at the upcoming rally, particularly if it is hijacked by groups with other agendas.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group that is organizing Monday’s rally, sent out a logistical primer to its members this week stressing that the rally is meant to be a peaceful event in which gun-rights supporters express their concerns about the proposed gun control measures.
Under a section titled “Situational Awareness,” the group wrote:
“There have been many rumors, videos, and articles flying around the internet. We cannot stress enough that this is a peaceful day to address our Legislature. Yes, we hold a rally, but the point of the day is communication with our Representatives.
“To our knowledge there are no credible threats of violence. That being said, please practice appropriate situational awareness. IF YOU SEE A BAD ACTOR flag down a police officer and point it out. If someone tries to provoke you, smile and walk away.”