“Peaceful and powerful.”
Those were the terms Virginia 60th District Del. James Edmunds used to describe the Lobby Day demonstrations for gun rights in Richmond.
An estimated 22,000 protestors descended on the state Capitol on Monday in protest of proposed state gun control legislation.
“It’s very evident that the people here today do not want any further infringement of their Second Amendment rights,” Edmunds, R-Halifax, said. “They’ve had enough, and they want to draw the line in the sand.”
Ricky Nichols of Scottsburg attended the rally to advocate for his and his fellow Virginians’ Constitutional gun rights. He believes the protestors were successful in making their voices heard.
“I think we made our point clear to Gov. Northam that we’re not going to take this,” Nichols said. “I’m former military, and I took the same oath to uphold the Constitution. They’re stepping on our toes by trying to infringe on our Constitutional right to bear arms.”
Nichols said from his understanding, the crowd at Lobby Day was the largest crowd to ever gather at the Capitol, for any purpose. The Virginia Citizens Defense League organized Lobby Day.
“Thousands of people came to Richmond to make their voices heard,” said Gov. Ralph Northam in a post-Lobby Day statement. “Today showed that when people disagree, they can do so peacefully. The issues before us evoke strong emotions, and progress is often difficult. I will continue to listen to the voices of Virginians, and I will continue to do everything in my power to keep our Commonwealth safe.”
There were no reports of violence at the Lobby Day demonstrations. Northam had declared a state of emergency and banned weapons on Capitol Square from Friday evening through Tuesday evening ahead of perceived threats of violence from hate groups and white nationalists.
The governor in his statement thanked law enforcement and leaders of the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office for “keeping Virginia safe” at the rally.
“It was peaceful, it was nice. There was no trouble. I didn’t see any extremists [there],” said Dana Howerton Smith, a South Boston resident who attended the rally. “It left a really good vibe.”
Lee Womack, another South Boston resident who attended the rally, said everyone he encountered at the rally was friendly.
He and other Halifax County residents who attended Lobby Day did not carry weapons, but some protestors outside the Capitol Square did.
Womack said he met people there who had “several rifles hanging around their neck,” and he said they were some of the nicest people.
Howerton Smith said she feels the rally brought people together for a common purpose: to protect their freedoms as Americans.
“There were people there from children to old, black and white, every religion and creed. They were all gathered for one reason,” Howerton Smith said. “We need to let the people keep the power, not one or two representatives that are in power. They’re trying to divide us, but the American people — Democrats and Republicans — are coming together again. They’re starting to make their own mind up. This isn’t politics. This is the fact of being free.”
Three proposed gun control bills have been approved by the state Senate and are headed to the House of Delegates for a vote. If the bills become law, they will mandate background checks for private firearm transfers, limit gun purchases to one handgun a month and allow localities to ban firearms in public during a permitted event.
“I feel they’re trying to chip away at our gun rights. I feel that their goal is to get rid of all guns,” Womack said. “My opinion is they want to try to stop gun violence by passing these laws. But the laws that they’re trying to pass are not going to do anything to protect anybody’s life.”
Edmunds had similar thoughts: “Guns don’t cause crimes. It’s the heart of man (that causes crime).”
Edmunds said he plans to vote against the gun control bills. The state representative recently drafted House Bill 934, which proposes giving immunity to localities designated as Second Amendment Sanctuaries from any further gun control measures passed by the state legislature. Halifax County is a Second Amendment Sanctuary.