Virginia breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday, one day after gun control opponents dominated the traditional Lobby Day affair — massing an estimated 22,000 people at the capitol to protest several proposed gun control measures before the General Assembly.
There’s plenty of credit to go around for that, but what matters today is that the event was not a repeat of the ugly violence in Charlottesville more than two years ago. And for that, every Virginian should be thankful.
Vocal opposition to gun control has been simmering across the commonwealth since November, when Democrats won majorities in the House and Senate.
The election came four months after the previous legislature, with Republican majorities in both chambers, adjourned a special session about gun violence only 90 minutes after it convened. At a time when Virginians were calling for tighter controls on firearms access and purchasing, GOP leaders balked.
November’s election, in which all 140 seats in the assembly were on the ballot, became a de facto referendum on gun control. Recognizing that a Democratic legislature, backed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, would likely follow the will of voters and pass gun control measures, opponents mobilized locally to lobby city councils and county boards to refuse compliance.
According to the Virginia Citizens Defense League, the most vocal commonwealth-based gun rights group, 136 counties, independent cities and towns have adopted some form of a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” resolution, or otherwise affirmed that they support the Constitution.
These are symbolic acts — the office of the state attorney general issued an advisory opinion in December concluding they cannot be enforced — but they speak to the deep concern that law-abiding gun owners fear about legislative overreach in Richmond.
They also speak to the level of misinformation surrounding this issue, with wild stories of Northam paying for a special security force to round up gun owners and the typical nonsense about gun control measures paving the way to rule by the United Nations or some such thing.
It can be difficult for anyone — even lawmakers — to navigate a proper course, to reflect the popular will without cultivating unrest, and to make sure that a raw, inflamed situation doesn’t get worse.
Northam, for instance, made the right call last week when he issued an executive order prohibiting firearms on the capitol grounds. He was accused as overstepping his authority and acting like a tyrant, but he said he made that decision at the behest of law enforcement and as a result of specific threats made by those determined to disrupt or co-op the Lobby Day event.
And organizers did well to accept those terms on Monday (after exhausting legal challenges), with those entering the grounds doing so without weapons while those outside the checkpoints exercised their rights.
Concerns that extremists — white supremacists, neo-Nazis, violent anti-fascists — would cause trouble did not materialize. Everyone made it there are back safely. Virginia was spared further anguish by those determined to make this a battleground for their twisted, violent philosophies.
Accusations that anyone wanted violence or bloodshed — the state Republican Party implied in its post-rally statement, saying Democrats were distressed that the event was “peaceful” — are disgusting. But that was the exception, not the rule.
Threats to the events were apparently thwarted, thanks to the work of federal and state law enforcement. Thousands of Virginians exercised their right to assemble and lobby their lawmakers.
Legislators, for their part, continued their work in the Capitol, with the Senate voting to allow no-excuse absentee voting to make casting a ballot easier. And an odd day in the annals of Virginia history came and went, our worst fears unrealized and our hopes for public safety affirmed.