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Virginians Hold Dueling Rallies Over Guns

January 19, 2015

By Kelsey Callahan and Lyndsey Raynor
Capital News Service

 

RICHMOND – Virginians from across the state converged on the Capitol on Monday to voice differing opinions about the commonwealth’s gun laws.

Two rallies took place at Capitol Square – one in support of Second Amendment rights, the other to protest gun violence. At each rally, demonstrators said the state has failed to deliver appropriate gun laws, and they called for action – in different directions – by this year’s General Assembly.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League held its rally at 11 a.m. in support of the right to bear arms. Dozens of people attended.

Gun rights activist David Codrea was there to challenge legislation that he fears could result in the disarmament of citizens. He said the fight is not about guns, but about freedom.

“We won’t stand for scape-goating. No new gun laws. Repeal existing intolerable acts. Deny success to mass murderers by abolishing phony gun-free zones now,” Codrea said. “I will not disarm!”

Codrea made a point to disagree with nearly everything Gov. Terry McAuliffe said about guns in his State of the Commonwealth address last week.

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The governor, a gun owner, said that too many tragedies have occurred to ignore the issue of gun violence and that measures must be taken to ensure the safety of Virginians. McAuliffe said he does not want to infringe on the rights of Americans but rather prevent criminals from obtaining firearms.

One solution, McAuliffe said, is to restore Virginia’s law prohibiting people from buying more than one handgun a month. That law was repealed in 2012.

Emily Miller, chief investigative reporter for television station WTTG (FOX 5) in Washington, D.C., spoke at the morning rally.

“It’s great to be in Virginia, which is part of America, where you can recognize the Second Amendment,” said Miller, who is well known for her advocacy of gun rights. “I came from D.C. this morning, which is not a part of America because they don’t recognize the Second Amendment.”

Miller said gun control laws do not work because criminals ignore the law. Most citizens use their firearms for protection and should have that right, she said.

Before the morning rally, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee approved a bill that represented a small victory for the Virginia Citizens Defense League. The committee voted 10-4 in favor of a bill that would prohibit Virginia from sharing information about concealed handgun permits with states that do not have reciprocal agreements with Virginia for carrying of concealed weapons. With the vote, Senate Bill 948 now advances to the Senate floor.

When they heard the news, citizens attending the Second Amendment rally cheered.

A few hours later, legislators and organizations that support stricter gun laws turned out at the Capitol to have their voices heard at the 23rd annual “Vigil and Advocacy Day” rally sponsored by the Virginia Center for Public Safety.

In recognition of Martin Luther King Day and his violent death, hundreds of men, women and children made their way onto the hill next to the Capitol. Protesters held a string of hearts – one for each Virginian killed by guns during the past year.

Gena Reeder, leader of the Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, was an organizer of the event. She said her group includes people who own guns and people who don’t. Reeder said having a gun entails responsibility.

“We’re sending a strong message to our Virginia lawmakers that the majority of Virginia voters want common-sense firearms laws and responsible, common-sense legislation,” Reeder said. “That is in the best interest of Virginia families.”

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Reeder said she got involved after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., two years ago; Reeder’s children were the same age as the young victims there.

Reeder was not the only one moved to action by the Sandy Hook shooting. The Rev. Gregory Washington, pastor of St. Mark Baptist Church in Maidens, Va., said action is necessary when innocent children are killed at school.

“People have a right to carry guns, but people have a right to live as well,” Washington said. “Having a gun in the public square, other than being an officer protecting every American – I don’t see the use for that.”

Other supporters at the afternoon rally included Democratic Dels. Marcus Simon of Falls Church, Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax and Kathleen Murphy of McLean. Brian Moran, Virginia’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, also attended.

Simon is sponsoring House Bill 1671, which would reinstate the limit of buying one handgun a month. At a morning press conference, he and other Democratic legislators discussed their legislation they hope will reduce gun violence.

The Capitol Police had several officers present at Capitol Square for Monday’s rallies.

In the afternoon, officers noticed an unattended backpack. As a precaution, they blocked off part of the square 30 minutes before the rally against gun violence began. As a result, the vigil was moved to the Patrick Henry Building north of the Capitol.

The Richmond bomb squad was called to investigate. The backpack turned out to contain camera equipment left by someone from the morning rally.

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How They Voted

Here is how the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted Monday on SB 948, regarding sharing information with other states about concealed handgun permits.

01/19/15 Senate: Reported from Courts of Justice (10-Y 4-N)

YEAS – Obenshain, Edwards, Puller, McDougle, Stuart, Vogel, Stanley, Reeves, Garrett, Chafin – 10.

NAYS – Saslaw, Howell, Lucas, McEachin – 4.

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