Court upholds Northam’s firearms ban for Capitol rally
Jan. 20 gun-rights rally expected to draw tens of thousands of protesters
Richmond Circuit Court Judge Joi Taylor issued a ruling Thursday upholding Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order to temporarily ban firearms from the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol in advance of a Jan. 20 pro-gun rights rally expected to draw tens of thousands of protesters.
Northam had issued a state of emergency following what he said were credible threats of violence that law enforcement had uncovered surrounding the rally. The New York Times reported Thursday that three suspected neo-Nazis, including a Canadian citizen who entered the country illegally, had been arrested by the FBI on charges connected to an alleged plot to incite violence at the protest scheduled for Monday. One of the men was charged with transporting a machine gun and another was charged with transporting firearms and ammunition with the intent to commit a felony.
“This is the right decision,” Northam said in a statement issued late Thursday afternoon. “I took this action to protect Virginians from credible threats of violence. These threats are real — as evidenced by reports of neo-Nazis arrested this morning after discussing plans to head to Richmond with firearms. I’m grateful to the circuit court for recognizing the seriousness of these threats, and for upholding this reasonable, legal action to protect all Virginians, including demonstrators and policymakers. I will continue to do everything in my power to keep Virginians safe.”
Firearms were a major issue in the November 2019 election that resulted in Democrats taking control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in nearly 30 years. Northam called for a special General Assembly session on gun safety in July 2019, following a workplace shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center that took the lives of 12 people. Republicans adjourned the special legislative session after 90 minutes, without hearing or voting on any legislation. On the campaign trail last summer and fall, Democratic state candidates vowed to institute a variety of gun safety measures.
In recent months, several Virginia localities have declared themselves as Second Amendment “sanctuaries” or have passed resolutions expressing support for gun-owner rights in anticipation of sweeping state firearms regulations expected from the Democratic-controlled General Assembly this session. Gun bills progressing through the legislature include measures to limit handgun purchases to one per month, requiring background checks for all firearms purchases and giving localities the ability to ban firearms from public events.
A group of gun-rights activists including Gun Owners of America and the Virginia Citizens Defense League had filed a legal injunction in the court hoping to have Northam’s firearms ban for the rally overthrown. Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave, who made international news in 2018 when he was apparently duped by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen into advocating the arming of toddlers, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he would appeal the judge’s ruling to the Virginia Supreme Court.