Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam plans to declare an emergency Wednesday ban on all weapons, including guns, from Capitol Square ahead of a massive rally planned next week over gun rights.
Two anonymous state officials who were briefed on the plans told The Associated Press Tuesday that Northam, a Democrat, seeks to avoid the deadly violence that broke out at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. Northam plans to hold a news conference Wednesday to announce decision, which is based on credible threats of potential violence and extremism, one of the officials said.
The governor will also ban items like helmets and shields, which some white nationalists carried at the Charlottesville rally, The AP reported. It is not known how long the temporary ban will be in effect.
According to the official, as paraphrased by The AP, Northam has for weeks been receiving reports about “ominous-sounding” online posts by out-of-state pro-gun and militia groups that have announced the will attend the rally Monday in Capitol Square. The official cited a post that included a photo of an AR-15 and said there are “great sight angles from certain buildings” near the Capitol grounds.
However, the official acknowledged that the state has no intelligence that any groups are planning a specific act of violence.
Northam’s planned gun ban comes after Democrats, in control of the Virginia legislature for the first time in a generation, last Friday used a special rules committee to prohibit firearms inside the Capitol and a legislative office building. There has been a heavy police presence at the Capitol.
Northam is backing a raft of gun control bills that include universal background checks on gun sales, a ban on assault-style rifles and “red flag” laws that would allow courts and local law enforcement to remove guns from people deemed a risk to communities.
“We will at least start with those,” Northam said during a November Cabinet meeting, according to the Washington Post.
Asked about confiscating guns from law-abiding citizens, Northam responded, “That’s something I’m working [on] with our secretary of public safety.”
Why Ralph Northam wants a gun ban
In response to threat of sweeping regulation, a fierce grassroots pro-gun movement has risen up across the state. Dozens of counties and towns have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries in recent months, and some Republican lawmakers in Richmond have championed the cause.
Already this week, a huge number of pro-gun activists have flooded Richmond in a show of strength.
— NRA (@NRA) January 13, 2020
A number of liberals — gun-control and anti-racism activists and journalists — have portrayed the movement as fueled by racism and conspiracy theories, and warned of a potential outbreak of violence.
“As white people, taking away privilege can feel like an attack, when it’s just a leveling of the playing field,” told The Guardian in a report published last Friday. “And I think that’s where a lot of people are right now: they’re feeling attacked, and this is a way they can lash out,” Christensen said. “It almost seems like people are looking for a reason to pull a Bundy and attack the government.”