Streets around Capitol Square fill with protesters
9:45 a.m.: With bands of well-armed and armored militia groups standing watch around the Capitol, throngs of protesters are hoping to use their voice as part of the show of force happening at the Virginia General Assembly.
Holding a sign warning gun-control supporters that they could trigger a “civil war,” Mackenzie Mcgough, 25, of North Chesterfield, said he thinks today’s event could mark a historical moment.
“You’re going to start something you wish you hadn’t. I don’t own a gun personally, but I know a lot of people who are going to be upset,” he said. “I think we’re allowed to bear arms. I think they’re trying to push the goal post. They don’t want us to have any guns. That’s not going to happen.”
Others with similar sentiments traveled from afar to be in Richmond on Monday.
Smiles Welch, 41, of Athens, Ohio, held a sign quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. in honor of the civil rights leader whose namesake holiday in Virginia has become a day of lobbying for interest groups around the state, since many people are usually off work and available to come to Richmond.
When asked why he selected that quote, he said he sees a parallel between the Civil Rights movement and the people rallying today.
“None of us want to use the weapons that we want to keep to preserve peace. We’re here for safety and everyone’s freedom,” he said. “Although the cause we’re here for today is not exactly the same as the cause he fought for, they are directly linked. We all stand for freedom and equality, and the well-being of all people of America.”
A few blocks down Ninth Street, about two dozen people wearing body armor stood silently in the road, facing the Capitol, guns in hand. A man who appeared to be in charge said the group was not affiliated with any organization, and that most of them were from Central and Northern Virginia.
Inside the Pocahontas Building: ‘Lobby Day is when you peacefully petition your legislators’
9 a.m.: The public lines moved smoothly into the Pocahontas Building on Monday morning as people wearing orange “Guns Save Lives” stickers prepared to visit lawmakers for the annual Lobby Day for members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
League members dismissed concerns about outside nationalist groups swamping the annual lobbying event with agendas beyond protecting gun owner rights.
“People are conflating Lobby Day with things Lobby Day is not about,” said David Yarashus, who came from Annandale with four of his seven children. “Lobby Day is when you peacefully petition your legislators.”
The issue for league members is solely gun rights, said Yarashus, who was preparing to visit lawmakers with one organized group.
“I believe self-defense is the one of the most basic of human rights,” he said. “We need laws. That allow people to protect themselves.”
Thomas New, of Henrico, says some lawmakers are more willing to listen than others.
“Dick Saslaw doesn’t have the guts to talk to us,” New said of Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax. “Creigh Deeds does.”
Deeds is a Democratic senator from Bath County whose district includes Charlottesville.
New is a Revolutionary War re-enactor — he portrays a frontier scout — who said he worked for a security alarm company when Richmond was “the murder capital of the country.”
He contends that the one-gun-a-month law passed under then-Gov. Doug Wilder contributed to gun violence in the city, while concealed carry of firearms helped.
“If you send a message to criminals, they get it,” New said.
Kevin Brown came to Richmond from Southern California, but not for the rally.
Brown, 30, is a computer software engineer who is visiting for work training.
But he’s also an amateur historian — wearing a shirt with the Virginia state seal — who is concerned about government taking away firearms as a first step to total control.
“I’m here primarily because inch by inch the government has been basically taking the firearms,” he said.
Brown called “red flag” legislation that would allow temporary confiscation of guns from people found to be dangerous a “literally Soviet Union style snitching law.”
Thousands gather around Capitol Square in Richmond ahead of gun-rights rally
8:45 a.m.: Thousands of gun-rights supporters, some of them heavily armed, are massing outside of the Capitol grounds ahead of today’s gun-rights rally scheduled for 11 a.m.
The gun-rights rally organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League is slated from 11 to noon.
Chants erupting in the crowd outside the perimeter have ranged from “USA, USA” to “Northam out” and “Treasonous Democrats.”
Gun-rights rallies have been an annual part of Lobby Day at the state Capitol. This year’s rally is much larger than usual because the legislature’s new Democratic majority is seeking gun-control measures that have sparked concern among gun-rights advocates.
State authorities beefed up security for the rally, warning that militias and white supremacist groups from other states were threatening to come to Richmond, seeking to attach their causes to the rally.
‘Northam out’ chants around Capitol Square
8:15 a.m.: Inside the fenced-in area, gun rights supporters voiced their displeasure with not only the gun control proposals but Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
Protesters chanted “Northam out” while holding up an enlarged photo of a picture from Northam’s medical school yearbook that shows a man in blackface and another in a KKK robe.
As many rally inside, thousands of others are outside on Bank Street, some carrying guns they were told couldn’t come into Capitol Square.
— Justin Mattingly, Times-Dispatch
Thousands gather at The Diamond to board shuttles to Capitol Square rally
8:15 a.m.: Thousands gathered at The Diamond on Monday morning to board shuttles headed downtown for the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s Lobbying Day rally.
Those in line came from all over the state and beyond to participate in the group’s annual event with gun control legislation proposed by Virginia legislators sparking renewed vigor in Second Amendment organizations.
Brian Scholten, a 21-year-old Virgina Tech student from Strasburg in Shenandoah County, said the recent legislation in Virginia had been a wakeup call for him and others.
"I think all the organizing shows Virginia people are not happy," Scholten said.
Scholten said he and his friends were on the road by 3 a.m. to participate in the event, which volunteers have said will be the largest lobbying day crowd they’d ever seen.
Chris Williams, 42, said he has helped with the last several events and estimated today’s crowd was around three times the size of last year’s nearly 800 people.
William’s said those who showed up today were not here to protest but to lobby and open up dialogues with elected officials.
He said he hopes people come away with stronger relationships and a new commitment to getting more involved with public action.
"When I see crowds like this I think there’s a bright future for Virginia," Williams said.
Johnnie Leggette, a longtime attendee now retired and living in Pennsylvania, said he was worried if other states saw Virginia pass gun control laws uncontested then they would take up similar bills elsewhere.
Leggette’s concerns were echoed by others who had traveled from Maryland and North Carolina to voice their concerns.
Leggette said he hopes people around the country see what he and others are doing today and become encouraged to take similar action.
— Samuel Northrop, Times-Dispatch
Video: Crowd at Capitol for lobby day
Medical emergency in line at Capitol Square
7:30 a.m.: A man is stable after having a medical emergency while waiting in line to enter Capitol Square.
Just before 7 a.m. an ambulance took the man to a local hospital for treatment.
Roads closed around Capitol Square
According the information provided by local law enforcement, expect these roads around Capitol Square to be closed Monday, January 20, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Here’s a look at the entrance and exits for Capitol Square on Monday:
VIDEO: Why gun right advocates are headed to Richmond