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20 Jan, 2020 17:18

‘Come and take it’: Thousands rally in Virginia against new gun-control laws (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

‘Come and take it’: Thousands rally in Virginia against new gun-control laws (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Thousands of gun-rights supporters and militia members have gathered at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, in an armed show of defiance against a slew of gun laws proposed by Governor Ralph Northam.

Northam – who shot to international infamy last year when a yearbook picture of him in blackface surfaced – has proposed a bevy of new gun laws in the wake of a mass shooting at Virginia Beach last May. Democrats took control of the state’s House of Representatives and Senate in November, giving Northam the political path to passing these laws. The proposed measures include universal background checks, ‘red flag’ laws, and a restriction on handgun purchases. A highly controversial ban on AR-style semi-automatic rifles was struck out by the State Senate last week.

Thousands of gun rights activists descended on the State Capitol in Richmond on Monday to protest these laws. Bearing placards reading “Come and take it,” and chanting “Northam out,” hordes of demonstrators poured through security checkpoints and onto Capitol grounds. Northam had declared a state of emergency on Friday and banned weapons from the grounds, citing a threat of “extremist” violence.

Away from the Capitol, however, groups of armed protesters took to the streets, open-carrying rifles, shotguns, and pistols. Some clad themselves in the tactical gear beloved of militias, and communicated with each other by walkie-talkie. At least one organized militia group, the Oath Keepers, turned up to the rally.

Right-wing rallies in US cities have regularly drawn ‘Antifa’ counter-protesters in the past, with some descending into brawls, or deadly violence, as was the case with the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville in 2017. However, local leftist groups declined to protest Monday’s rally. Right-wing bloggers and activists still warned of ploys to infiltrate the rally and provoke violence, and some ‘Antifa’ groups publicized a list of “fascists, racists, and their sympathizers” expected to show up.

With rumors of infiltration and sabotage confined to online discussion, a number of influential right-wing pundits traveled to Richmond to show their support for the demonstrators. Infowars’ Alex Jones and Owen Shroyer appeared on the streets, while speakers inside the Capitol included Antonia Okafor, who trains female college students in firearms use, and Stephen Wilford, who stopped a massacre at a Texas church last month by shooting the gunman dead.

Opposition to Northam’s Second Amendment crackdown has not been limited to right-wing rallies and posts by conservative pundits: 91 out of 95 Virginia counties and 33 towns have declared themselves ‘Second Amendment Sanctuaries’, with officials refusing to enforce gun laws they see as unconstitutional.

President Donald Trump has lent his support to the gun activists, warning Virginians: “The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights. This is just the beginning. Don’t let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020.”

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