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Car Caravans, Virtual Vigil on Low-Key Lobby Day

cars on Broad St
A much smaller than anticipated turnout from Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun group, included a car caravan on Broad St. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

City and state officials worried about potential acts of violence as the Virginia Capitol saw a much smaller pro-Second Amendment rally on Monday.

Last year’s rally, organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, drew more than 20,000 heavily armed demonstrators to downtown Richmond. This year, advocates opted for a car caravan. The caravans from across the state drove up and down Broad St., with pro-Second Amendment flags and stickers. Confederate and Trump 2020 flags were also seen. The demonstrators passed by the Science Museum of Virginia, where the state Senate is currently meeting because of the pandemic.

Philip Van Cleave, president of VCDL, addressed demonstrators in a pre-recorded video. He said the caravan was meant to send the message that they’ll oppose further gun restrictions.

“We’re just trying to get back what’s been stolen from gun owners over the past 150 years,” Van Cleave said. “We want to get back to where we are supposed to be under the Constitution.”

While most demonstrators stayed in their vehicles, armed groups did gather near the Capitol, including some extremists associated with the Proud Boys and Boogaloo movement. They were generally outnumbered by news crews.

Even after last year’s show of force, the VCDL was unable to stop a new Democratic majority in the General Assembly from passing high-profile gun legislation. Democrats, who now control the House, Senate and Governor’s mansion, passed a slew of legislation they said was necessary to stop gun violence, including a purchase limit of one handgun per month, universal background checks on gun sales and a ‘red flag’ law.

Groups like Moms Demand Action and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence backed the Democratic push for new gun control legislation. The Coalition marked this year’s lobby day, which always takes place on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, with a vigil for the lives lost due to gun violence.

Pastor Emmanual Harris, who leads a congregation in Goochland County, spoke at the vigil.

“I just can’t fathom how you can read the same Bible and speak against one thing, but not something else,” Harris said. “This God and guns theology does not mesh. King preached love.”

Gun control advocates are expecting a quieter General Assembly session this year. Their priorities include banning firearms at polling places and on the grounds of Capitol Square.

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