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Here’s what you should know about the gun extremist rally in Virginia on January 20th

January 10, 2020

On January 20th, gun extremists – including out-of-state militia groups – will descend on the Virginia General Assembly, hoping to intimidate lawmakers into rejecting the democratic will of the people who, by wide margins, want (and voted for champions of) common-sense gun safety laws. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Virginians overwhelmingly support background check and red flag laws, and gun extremists are in the minority: On election night, Virginians sent a clear message: the time for common-sense gun safety legislation is now. Gun safety was the number one issue for voters in Virginia, and in November both chambers flipped to gun sense majorities — even in the NRA’s own backyard. And just this week, new polling by the Center for Public Policy at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University continued to show that a bipartisan majority of Virginians favor gun safety laws, with large majorities supporting background checks and red flag laws.
  • Lawless County resolutions hold no legal weight, undermine law enforcement, and create a dangerous environment for people who may hurt themselves or others: Policy experts, state attorneys general, and law enforcement alike agree: Lawless County resolutions, or as gun extremists call them, ‘Second Amendment Sanctuary’ resolutions, which threaten that officials will  disregard their duty to enforce duly enacted and constitutional laws, have no legal force. The resolutions also threaten the safety of communities nationwide by fostering distrust in law enforcement and may deter people from reporting individuals that may hurt themselves or others.
    • As Jonathan Yglesias and Ruth Micklem with the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance put it in an op-ed for the Richmond Times Dispatch, “the question remains, who really is in need of sanctuary? Is it possible that the movement to create ‘Second Amendment sanctuary cities’ is a ruse to take the attention away from those victims [of gun violence] in our communities who have been without sanctuary for far too long?”
  • White supremacist ‘accelerationists’ align with militia movement, sparking fears of another Charlottesville: In the wake of Charlottesville, where “a day of volatile street-fighting ended with a white supremacist plowing a car into a crowd of counter-protesters,” Virginia officials, legal experts, civil rights leaders, and leading editorial boards are worried that January 20th will turn into another violent, hate-fueled disaster. According to Alex Friedfeld, a researcher at the Anti-Defamation League, “White supremacist ‘accelerationists’ have seized on the standoff [over gun safety laws in Virginia] as the potential beginning of a civil war that will destroy the United States and allow them to build a white nation in its ruins.” Governor Northam has already held multiple meetings to prepare for legions of heavily armed, out-of-state protestors descending on the Capitol. As Mary McCord, the legal director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, put it – these resolutions have “spurred extremists who want to stand up local militias to engage in armed rebellion against the state — action that isn’t just dangerous but that also runs counter to the Constitution.”
  • The NRA has yet to make any public statement disavowing the January 20th event or the various militia groups planning on attending. However, the NRA’s people and rhetoric are intertwined with the January 20th rally. The NRA put out a formal statement supporting the Lawless County resolutions, and former NRA TV personalities like Cam Edwards and Antonia Okafor are listed as speakers at the rally. The NRA has taken out billboards throughout Virginia ominously and baselessly warning of coming “confiscation” of firearms.  As UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler was quoted as saying, for decades the NRA has been pushing “overheated rhetoric about the second amendment protecting your right to rise up against the government … this is the natural result.”  

In December, Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, held a press call and sent a letter to the National Sheriffs’ Association, the National Association of Counties, and others urging them to condemn the recent wave of ‘Lawless County’ resolutions passed by some local governments. 

Read coverage highlights below:
The Guardian: “Virginia Democrats won an election. Gun owners are talking civil war
The Washington Post: “Gun reality vs. gun fantasy in Virginia
The Washington Post: “Out-of-state militias vow armed protest of gun control in Virginia
The Washington Post: “Second Amendment ‘sanctuaries’ will never hold up in court
The Washington Post: “Virginia officials must show they learned the lessons from Charlottesville
The Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Who’s in need of sanctuary? Guns, domestic violence and Virginia’s 2nd Amendment sanctuary cities

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