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Thousands of gun rights activists converge in Virginia's capital to protest proposed gun laws

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Gun rights supporters rally in Virginia

Thousands of gun rights activists, many heavily armed, converged on the Virginia Capitol in Richmond on Monday to protest proposed new gun laws. "A lot of people say that the gun is the problem, and, me, I am proving here that my weapon is secure, I am disciplined and that it is not going to do anything," activist Bill Groom said.

Tensions had been rising since Democrats took control of the state legislature and proposed several bills that limit handgun purchases and require background checks. "It starts in Virginia, and they get by with these whackado laws, it's just going to go across the country," gun-rights activist Vanessa Dallas said.

Security was beefed up after authorities revealed they've received several credible threats of violence. Governor Ralph Northam issued a temporary state of emergency and banned weapons inside the Capitol Square, where the rally was taking place. Gun control advocates had planned a counter protest, but was called off over concerns it could have led to confrontation.

Demonstrators are seen during a pro-gun rally January 20, 2020, in Richmond, Virginia.
Demonstrators are seen during a pro-gun rally January 20, 2020, in Richmond, Virginia. Sarah Rankin / AP
  Updated 5:56 PM / January 20, 2020

Officials announce Capitol Square is closed for the day

Officials tweeted their "thanks to everyone who patiently waited to enter" Monday's rally.

Capitol Square will reopen Tuesday morning.

By Peter Martinez
  Updated 5:15 PM / January 20, 2020

1 person arrested during gun-rights rally

One person was arrested during Monday's rally, according to Virginia State Police.

Mikaela E. Beschler, 21, of Richmond was taken into custody by a Richmond Police Department officer after and was charged with one felony count of wearing a mask in public. Beschler was released on her own recognizance.

By Peter Martinez
  4:53 PM / January 20, 2020

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam glad Monday's rally "passed without incident"

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued a statement expressing gratitude that Monday's rally "passed without incident" and said the "teams successfully de-escalated what could have been a volatile situation," which resulted in "weeks of planning and extensive cooperation between state, local and federal partners."

"Virginia's law enforcement and first responders demonstrated tremendous professionalism. I'm proud of their work. I have spoken with Colonel Settle of the State Police, Colonel Pike of the Capitol Police and Chief Smith of the Richmond Police Department, as well as leaders of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office, and thanked them for keeping Virginia safe," his statement explained.

"Thousands of people came to Richmond to make their voices heard. Today showed that when people disagree, they can do so peacefully," the statement continued. "The issues before us evoke strong emotions, and progress is often difficult. I will continue to listen to the voices of Virginians, and I will continue to do everything in my power to keep our Commonwealth safe."

By Peter Martinez
  Updated 5:10 PM / January 20, 2020

Crowd size estimated at 22,000

Pro Gun Rally Virginia
A demonstrator stands outside a security zone before a gun-rights rally Monday, January 20, 2020, in Richmond, Virginia. Julio Cortez / AP

Authorities estimated 22,000 people attended Monday's protest. About 6,000 people were on the grounds in front of the Virginia Capitol, authorities said on Twitter.

"CBS This Morning" lead national correspondent David Begnaud reports everyone had to go through metal detectors before they could access the Capitol Square. About 16,000 people stayed outside the square's gates, where they were allowed to carry weapons.

By Alex Sundby
  Updated 4:44 PM / January 20, 2020

Democrats say rally isn't going to affect gun-control efforts

Democratic Delegate Chris Hurst of Montgomery, Virginia, gestures during an impassioned floor speech during a special legislative session on gun issues at the State Capitol in Richmond on July 9, 2019.
Democratic Delegate Chris Hurst of Montgomery, Virginia, gestures during an impassioned floor speech during a special legislative session on gun issues at the State Capitol in Richmond on July 9, 2019. Steve Helber / AP

Democratic lawmakers said the rally wasn't going to impact their plans to pass gun-control measures, including universal background checks and a one-handgun-purchase-a-month limit. "I was prepared to see a whole lot more people show up than actually did and I think it's an indication that a lot of this rhetoric is bluster, quite frankly," said Delegate Chris Hurst, a gun-control advocate whose TV journalist girlfriend was killed in an on-air shooting in 2015.

Some of the protesters waved flags with messages of support for President Trump. Mr. Trump, in turn, tweeted support for their goals.

"The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights," he tweeted. "This is just the beginning. Don't let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020!"

The Associated Press

  Updated 5:01 PM / January 20, 2020

Protesters leave Capitol Square grounds

A large crowd gathers on Gun Lobby Day in front of the Virginia Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, January 20, 2020.
A large crowd gathers on Gun Lobby Day in front of the Virginia Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, on Monday, January 20, 2020. Stephanie Keith / Reuters

Authorities said on Twitter that protesters have emptied out of the grounds in front of the Virginia Capitol.

By Alex Sundby
  Updated 3:20 PM / January 20, 2020

Virginia officials hope to avoid another Charlottesville

State officials want to avoid another Charlottesville, when a white supremacist rally in 2017 ended in the death of a counter-protester. "In every crowd, there's always a bad apple, so you have to be situationally aware of what's going on around you," gun-rights activist Bruce Bennett said Monday.

A deadly mass shooting in Virginia Beach last summer created a push for new gun safety laws in Virginia. An anti-gun rally was also planned for Monday but was canceled by organizers.

"Why would you take a gun-violence survivor or their family into an area where a state of emergency's been declared?" asked Andrew Goddard, whose son survived the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech. Rally organizers said they are not trying to create unrest but are fighting for their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Skyler Henry

  Updated 1:17 PM / January 20, 2020

White supremacists arrested ahead of rally

More arrests of white supremacist group members

Last week, seven members of the white supremacist group The Base were arrested in Wisconsin, Georgia, Maryland and Delaware. Investigators believe three of the men were heading to the rally in Virginia.

By Jeff Pegues
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