Democrats seized control of Virginia’s General Assembly earlier this year and are pushing for stricter gun control laws.
<i>Steve Helber / AP Photo</i>

Democrats seized control of Virginia’s General Assembly earlier this year and are pushing for stricter gun control laws. Steve Helber / AP Photo

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is traditionally Lobby Day in Richmond, when concerned Virginians take center stage. But this year, Second Amendment activists are coming to the Capitol from all over the country. And some of them say they intend to come armed.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested three suspected Neo-Nazis who had obtained firearms and planned to participate in the rally. The New York Times reports that armed militants and white nationalists have talked online about making Monday’s protest the “boogaloo” — in white supremacist internet parlance, the hypothetical watershed moment that kicks off a race war.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency through Tuesday, and temporarily banned firearms from the Capitol grounds. His administration has also pushed back publicly against conspiracy theories and fake reports that Northam would cut gun owners’ phone and internet lines, and even “have [them] killed.”

Gun policy has been contentious in Virginia for some time, particularly in the wake of last year’s mass shooting in Virginia Beach. Many smaller jurisdictions in Virginia have already declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries”, a title with shaky (if any) legal standing. With Democrats now in power and proposing a myriad of attempts at gun control, the firearm debate is as fiery as ever — and a clean solution is just as hard to come by.

Produced by Maura Currie


  • Alana Wise Reporting Fellow, Guns & America; @alanawise
  • Quentin Kidd Vice Provost; Director, Wason Center for Public Policy, Christopher Newport University; @QuentinKidd
  • Mark Herring Attorney General, Virginia (D); @MarkHerringVA


  • 12:00:10

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll be discussing volunteers. We're commemorating Martin Luther King Day with a look at unique service opportunities in our region. But first today is Lobby Day at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. This year Second Amendment activists have flocked to the Capitol from all over the country, and some of them announced over past weeks that they intended to come armed.

  • 12:00:37

    KOJO NNAMDIVirginia Governor Ralph Northam has declared a state emergency through tomorrow and temporarily banned firearms from the Capitol grounds. Gun policy has been contentious in Virginia for some time, but with three gun controls working their way through the legislature it seems likely that something will be signed into law. But will anyone be content with these solutions and will they actually curb gun violence? We begin today on the ground in Richmond where WAMU's Alana Wise is standing by to give us the latest. Alana, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:10

    ALANA WISEThanks for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:01:11

    NNAMDIAlana, where are you in Richmond and what are you seeing?

  • 12:01:14

    WISESo today I am in downtown Richmond at the State Capitol where thousands and thousands of gun rights activists have come to express their displeasure really with the prospect of additional gun laws being put in place. As far as the eye can see there are signs, people openly carrying offsite -- off of the Capitol grounds, people chanting and marching basically saying that not only do they not want new gun control laws, but also saying that they won't comply with them.

  • 12:01:45

    NNAMDIWhat -- how big of a turn out do you think there was for this rally today?

  • 12:01:50

    WISESo we've not gotten an official headcount yet, but just based on what we're seeing it's obvious there are going to be in the multiple thousands of people on every side of this street flanking the Capitol Building. There are just people as far as the eye can see. The crowds are dense very tightly packed in, and then inside the Capitol as well on actual Capitol grounds there are thousands more people. The group organizing the event, The Virginia Citizens Defense League, VCDL, estimated that there would be upwards of 50,000 people coming through. So it will be interesting when we get final headcounts to see just how many people came today.

  • 12:02:26

    NNAMDIDoes the rally give any sign of ending any time soon?

  • 12:02:29

    WISENo, people are holding on pretty strong. We've been out since some time around seven o'clock this morning and already there were lines wrapped around trying to get inside the State Legislative Building, the Pocahontas Building where legislators had their offices trying to get on Capitol grounds to be in front of the Capitol Building itself and just standing all around outside. As I mentioned there are some people openly carrying. As you mentioned earlier last week, Governor Northam actually put in place a state of emergency and said that for the time during the rally people would not be allowed to carry guns on Capitol grounds. So those who brought their guns with them -- there are several firearms out. They're mostly staying outside of the Capitol grounds gates.

  • 12:03:15

    NNAMDIAlana, who have you been able to talk to and what's the general atmosphere been like thus far?

  • 12:03:20

    WISESo I've talked to people from all over so far today. I spoke to one man, earlier today, who said he drove six and half hours yesterday in from New York to quote, "Stand with his brothers and sisters in support of denying new gun laws." I've spoken with people, who say that gun rights are civil rights. I spoke with a group of three men today. They had "Gun Rights are Trans Rights" flags, "Gun Rights are Civil Rights," "Gun Rights are Equal Rights," different signage along those lines. So it's really been a very spirited movement so far.

  • 12:03:56

    WISEIt's really been quite peaceful. That said, there have not been any major incidents that we've seen despite the large numbers and despite the earlier threats from different aspects of the White Nationalist movement, Neo-Nazis. We've not seen any sort of outbreaks of violence so far from those elements.

  • 12:04:15

    NNAMDISo so far it seems to be a peaceful protest.

  • 12:04:18

    WISESo far so good, yes.

  • 12:04:20

    NNAMDIAre you noticing a heavy law enforcement presence?

  • 12:04:24

    WISESo everywhere you look there are police officers. The streets are blocked off due to the size of the rally. And there's a very strong, very visible police presence all around. You see them in their cars, on their bicycles wearing all sorts of police signage and different things designating themselves as law enforcement officers. So yes there's a very strong very visible police presence here today.

  • 12:04:49

    NNAMDIAlana Wise is a Reporting Fellow with the Guns & America project at WAMU. Alana, thank you so much for joining us. And stay safe.

  • 12:04:57

    WISEThanks for having me.

  • 12:04:58

    NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Mark Herring. Mark Herring, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:05:06

    MARK HERRINGWell, thank you. It's good to be back on the show.

  • 12:05:08

    NNAMDILet's start with the protest unfolding in Richmond. Governor Northam declared a state of emergency that included a temporary weapons ban on Capitol grounds. Do you know if that has needed to be enforced?

  • 12:05:21

    HERRINGWell, when the governor announced that there were credible threats of violence and so the governor took what I thought was a responsible step that there was a legal challenge to that my team and I were success in making sure that that ban was kept in place after the court hearings. And, you know, right now I'm staying in close contact with the relevant law enforcement agencies to -- as far as we know right now there have been no serious incidents. And I really hope it stays that way.

  • 12:05:56

    HERRINGThere are certainly large crowds and a lot of people. Folks from all over Virginia as well as all over the country and a wide mix of folks including some hate groups and White Supremacists and Alex Jones and a lot of other people many of whom are carrying firearms. So it's certainly tense. But we expect everyone to maintain safety and follow the law. And I hope it stays peaceful and without serious incident.

  • 12:06:24

    NNAMDIThe Virginia Citizens Defense League, which organized today's event says it intends to continue fighting the ban in court even after it expires tomorrow. Do you have any kind of response to that?

  • 12:06:36

    HERRINGWell, you know, these are reasonable measures that are being taken that a court has already ruled on and this was heard by the Virginia Supreme Court on Friday afternoon. So with respect to the temporary ban that's been upheld. And going forward a number of gun safety laws are under consideration. Right now -- and this has been a year's long effort. It was something that rather spoke loud and clear on in the past November election. And it was a substantial part of many of the campaigns. And I think there are going to be a lot of proactive laws that are passed.

  • 12:07:15

    HERRINGThree have already worked their way through the Senate, universal background checks that's something that has broad public support in Virginia including -- among gun owners, one gun a month law, which was in existence in Virginia for 20 years until it was repealed by Republicans in the legislature just a few years ago, and authorizing localities to prohibit firearms at permitted events and sensitive places. And these are all reasonable measures.

  • 12:07:44

    HERRINGCertainly there are those who are there -- who are around the Capitol today who disagree. They think the status quo is fine. And I do not. And the majority of Virginians do not. There have been 10,000 Virginians killed by guns in the last years. And that is unacceptable. And Virginians want legislators to enact these gun safety measures. And they're going to happen and it's going to make our communities safer.

  • 12:08:14

    NNAMDIBack in December you issued an advisory opinion, basically a statement on jurisdictions across Virginia that have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. You said they have no legal standing to do so. But 91 counties, 48 cities and towns have passed resolutions like this anyway. If some form of gun control passes the legislature and is signed into law is your office prepared to take legal action against these jurisdictions?

  • 12:08:41

    HERRINGWell, the resolutions that have passed in the last couple of months do not have any legal effect and they're really expressions of opposition to some of the measures being put forward right now like universal background checks. And they were passed at a time when there was a lot of scaremongering going on about what laws might get passed even before the legislature began. And now that the legislature is in session I think folks are beginning to see that these are reasonable common sense measures like universal background checks that have a lot of support. And when these laws pass they are going to be followed and they're going to be enforced, and they're going to make our communities safer. That's what this is about. It's about making sure that these laws keep our communities safer. And that's what's going to happen.

  • 12:09:31

    NNAMDIMark Herring is the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia. As far as you know were there any arrests made today?

  • 12:09:38

    HERRINGNo. As far as I know there have been no arrests and have not been any serious incidents. There have been a couple of health emergencies that were related to those individuals' own situations. And I really hope that it stays that way, that it remains peaceful and that there are no serious incidents. But we certainly want to take all the precautions that we need to. And my team and I are going to continue to stay in close touch with the law enforcement agencies. Public safety is in the forefront of everything we do and we want and expect everyone to maintain safety and follow the law.

  • 12:10:18

    NNAMDIMark Herring is the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He joined us by telephone. We're going to have to take a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with Quentin Kidd, the Director of the Wason Center for Public Policy with his analysis of what's going on. But you can still call us 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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