Judge Refuses to Reverse Ban on Weapons at Virginia Rally

The Virginia Capitol building is surrounded by fencing on Thursday. (Dean Hoffmeyer/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Gun rights activists failed Thursday in their bid to overturn Governor Ralph Northam’s ban on all types of weapons on Virginia Capitol grounds at a pro-gun rally next week.

In a 12-page complaint filed Thursday in the City of Richmond Circuit Court, Gun Owners of America and others argued the five-day ban, which Northam said he issued for security concerns, violates a state law prohibiting such bans as well as their Second Amendment rights.

“The plain and unambiguous language of the Virginia Code… expressly prohibits the governor from using a declaration of a state of emergency to do precisely what he purports to do,” according to the complaint authored by lead attorney David Browne with the Richmond-based law firm Spiro and Browne.

“Without relief from this court, the plaintiffs and thousands of other rally participants will be irreparably denied their right to bear arms,” the lawsuit continues.

But Judge Joi Taylor denied that relief Thursday afternoon.

“The governor is vested with the power to take ‘action from time to time as is necessary for the adequate promotion and coordination of state and local emergency services activities relating to the safety and welfare of the commonwealth,’” Taylor wrote in a three-page opinion released just before court closed.

Governor Northam – whose promise to enact new gun laws helped Democrats win a majority in both legislative chambers last fall – applauded Taylor’s ruling Thursday evening, saying it was the right decision.

“I took this action to protect Virginians from credible threats of violence,” he said in a statement. “These threats are real – as evidenced by reports of neo-Nazis arrested this morning after discussing plans to head to Richmond with firearms.”

Northam was referencing the FBI’s arrest of three men linked to a violent white supremacist group. They were believed to be heading to the Virginia rally, according to an Associated Press report.

The governor’s ban forbids all weapons, including firearms, from Capitol grounds starting Friday and ending Monday night.

Gun Owners of America was joined in the lawsuit by the pro-gun Virginia Citizen Defense League and three Virginians planning to attend the rally.

“Plaintiffs will be forced to [make] an unenviable choice – if they wish to exercise their First Amendment rights, they must give up their Second Amendment rights, or vice versa,” their complaint states.

Second Amendment supporters, armed militia groups, white nationalists and others have taken to Twitter to threaten Virginia lawmakers and Northam in the wake of new gun restrictions proposed by legislators during the ongoing 2020 session, which started earlier this month and ends in March.

Monday’s rally falls in the shadow of a white nationalist gathering held in Charlottesville in August 2017. The permit for the now infamous Unite the Right rally was originally denied by city officials, but a federal judge reinstated it the night before the event.

The following day, state and city police stood by as Charlottesville descended into chaos. One counterprotester, Heather Heyer, was killed when white nationalist James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a group of people. Fields was charged with murder and is now serving a life sentence.

While there is little known about who will show up in Richmond on Monday, the Virginia Citizen Defense League has promised tens of thousands of supporters.

Conspiracy theorist, gun lover and radio host Alex Jones has said he will attend. According to watchdog Media Matters, Jones invited white nationalist Richard Spencer to attend as well. Charlottesville’s event was organized with help from Spencer.

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