Northam bans guns from Va. Capitol grounds, declares state of emergency

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Fearing a repeat of the deadly violence that engulfed Charlottesville more than two years ago, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a temporary emergency Wednesday banning all weapons, including guns, from Capitol Square ahead of a massive rally planned next week over gun rights.

Northam’s emergency order will ban weapons of all kinds, including firearms, from the Capitol grounds starting Friday because of potential violence during a gun-rights rally scheduled for Monday.

Northam says some of the rhetoric used by groups planning to attend the rally is similar to what was said in the lead-up to a deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

Democrats in the statehouse are advancing a number of gun-control bills that gun-rights advocates are fiercely opposing.

“Law enforcement intelligence analysts have identified credible threats of violence surrounding the event, along with white nationalist rhetoric and plans by out-of-state militia groups to attend,” the governor’s office said Wednesday.

The state of emergency will run from Friday, Jan. 17 at 5 p.m. to Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 5 p.m.

Northam’s announcement comes days after Democratic leaders used a special rules committee to ban guns inside the Capitol and a legislative office building. That ban did not include Capitol grounds, which are under the governor’s control and are where a huge number of gun-rights advocates are expected to rally Monday.

One official said Northam decided to ban all guns from the grounds of Capitol Square after receiving reports for weeks about inflammatory online postings by out-of-state pro-gun and militia groups who are promising to attend Monday’s rally.

The official said the state does not have intelligence that the groups are planning a specific act of violence, but said Northam has grown increasingly concerned about numerous ominous-sounding postings on social media from forces outside Virginia. The official cited one posting that included a photo of an AR-15 and said there are “great sight angles from certain buildings” near Capitol Square.

Virginia law enforcement officials have been criticized for their planning and response to a deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that involved heavily armed protesters. One woman was killed and several more were injured when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters.

Northam’s declaration will also ban items like helmets and shields, items that some white nationalists carried in Charlottesville.

Gun laws have become a dominant issue this legislative session and there’s been a heavy police at the Capitol.

Democrats have full control of the statehouse for the first time in a generation and are set to pass a number of gun-control restrictions, including limiting handgun purchases to once a month and universal background checks on gun purchases.

Republicans and gun-rights groups have pledged stiff resistance. Gun owners are descending on local government offices to demand they establish sanctuaries for gun rights. More than 100 counties, cities and towns have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries and vowed to oppose any new “unconstitutional restrictions” on guns.

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