NEW YORKER.COM January 28, 2020 – In the seven years since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, pressure on lawmakers by a surging gun-control movement has resulted in the passage of hundreds of new gun-safety laws. Momentum to regulate guns accelerated again after the shooting, almost two years ago, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, which marked the end of what might be called the “thoughts and prayers” era. In the months since Parkland, more than thirty states and the District of Columbia signed gun-safety bills into law. Virginia, the home of the National Rifle Association, was an exception. Last spring, after a mass shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Republicans voted down a proposed slate of gun-control bills in an emergency legislative session that lasted less than ninety minutes.
In November, Democrats won control of the Virginia general assembly for the first time in more than two decades, after campaigning heavily on gun-control measures, including universal background checks, an assault-rifle ban, and “red flag” laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate weapons from a person who poses a threat. Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun-control group founded by Michael Bloomberg, spent two and a half million dollars in Virginia in 2019, eight times more than the National Rifle Association.
Virginia is a polarized state, with a dense liberal population in Richmond, the Washington suburbs, and around its universities, and a conservative majority in its rural areas. In the weeks after the election, a backlash began. Dozens of counties and municipalities declared themselves gun-rights “sanctuaries,” language lifted from the immigrant-rights movement. The gun-rights group known as the Virginia Citizens Defense League tripled in size, from eight thousand to twenty-four thousand members, and called for gun-rights activists to rally on January 20th, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, in Richmond. The holiday is known as Lobby Day in Virginia, when citizens roam the halls of the Pocahontas State Office Building and speak with their legislators about their concerns.
V.C.D.L. has attended Lobby Day since 2002, and in recent years has drawn a few hundred members. This year, fear began to grow among government officials that the ranks of the activists would include people intent on violence. Groups promoting Lobby Day included the anti-government militia organizations the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters; Alex Jones, the right-wing conspiracy theorist and founder of InfoWars; and several organizers of the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally in August, 2017. [full article]