RICHMOND — Unified by their desire to preserve safety, but divided on ways to do so, both sides of the Virginia gun debate rallied on Capitol Square on Monday.
“Hello deplorables. Are you ready to take back the Commonwealth of Virginia?” Corey Stewart, a Republican candidate for governor, asked as members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League rallied in the morning.
Stewart cautioned the crowd that while it is possible to lose a battle and win the war, that means it is also possible to win the battle and lose the war. He said they won the battle for the presidency with Trump’s 2016 election.
“We have to gain the controls in Virginia because it’s not just enough to defend our rights, we need to further those rights,” Stewart said.
It’s not enough to have control in Washington, he said.
“There are gun grabbers. One of them is right over there in the governor’s mansion,” Stewart said.
Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun County, told the story of an uprising in Mexico, and said that while the rebels won on the battlefield, they ultimately had to surrender because they ran out of ammunition.
“I want to see the American people armed,” Black said. “The only way we control our government is by being too resistant to be suppressed.”
Many members of the group donned camouflage, and several wore hats distinguishing themselves as military veterans or Donald Trump supporters. Most of the attendees marked themselves with bright orange stickers that said “Guns Save Lives.”
Some attendees at the rally were seen openly carrying firearms.
“Every event that we have, we make a special point to invite people who are carrying,” Black said. “You’re welcome to bring whatever you want. You can open carry, you can conceal and carry-- anything that we do.”
Later that afternoon the Virginia Center for Public Safety held its rally in the same location, at the Bell Tower.
“We’re not out here being unreasonable,” said Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, a Democratic candidate for governor.
“All we’re asking – all we’re asking – is that we can live in communities, that we can work in communities, that we can play and that we can raise our children and have them to go to school to be in safe environments where they don’t have to worry about being the victims of gun violence,” Northam said.
Speakers throughout the rally mentioned the 32 deaths from the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the 26 deaths from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the 49 people killed in the Orlando night club shooting .
“For the fifth year in a row, gun homicides in Virginia are on the way up,” Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, said.
Herring said that while the General Assembly ought to take action, he will not wait.
“We’ve gone from prosecuting almost no crimes out of the office of attorney general to over 100 gun crimes in 2016 alone,” Herring said.
Speakers at both rallies said guns should be taken out of the hands of criminals. Speakers at the Virginia Center for Public Safety rally said the way to do that was through legislation, including increased regulation at gun shows and stricter guidelines for background checks.
“I served in a chamber whose response to gun violence is a moment of silence,” said U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, a former member of the Virginia Senate. “What is that about? A moment of silence never saved anyone.”
Barbara Parker of Collinsville, the mother of Allison Parker, the Roanoke journalist who was killed on live television in 2015, was at the rally.
“We will be here till we have sensible gun legislation in our state and in our country. People can’t assume it can never happen to them or to their loved ones,” Parker said.