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Lobby Day 2020: An affront to Dr. King

1/24/2020, 6 a.m.
There was something eerie and insulting about the thousands of gun-toting lobbyists who packed the area around Capitol Square on ...

There was something eerie and insulting about the thousands of gun-toting lobbyists who packed the area around Capitol Square on Monday to demand that Virginia lawmakers not step on their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

While we have great respect for the U.S. Constitution, particularly the First Amendment’s right to free speech and peaceable assembly, we found it offensive and disrespectful that gun rights advocates from across Virginia and the nation felt compelled to use the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to make their views known.

Dr. King, a peacemaker, was the personification of nonviolence, yet he is one of the world’s best known victims of gun violence. His life was cut short at age 39 by an assassin’s bullet in April 1968 in Memphis, Tenn., where he had gone to support city sanitation workers who were striking to eliminate dangerous working conditions and to boost their wages.

Many of the 16,000 demonstrators who were outside of Monday’s no-gun zone at the Capitol were armed and openly carried a dangerous array of weapons — military-style rifles, hunting rifles, shotguns, 9mm handguns, small caliber pistols and even a .50-caliber sniper rifle. Some of their shouts, chants, signs and props carried veiled, and not-so-veiled threats of what they will do if their gun rights are abridged; a guillotine was erected on Ninth Street just down from the Capitol and the state Supreme Court building.

While, fortunately, no violent incidents broke out, we don’t see anything peaceful about large crowds of people carrying guns. Their presence and message Monday was meant to intimidate — to strike fear in people, organizations and state lawmakers who back common sense gun safety proposals, such as background checks before all gun purchases, limiting handgun purchases to one a month, banning assault-style weapons and allowing local governments to ban guns in parks and public buildings.

These basic proposals, which are aimed at curbing the spate of violence and gun deaths in our communities, workplaces, schools, churches and synagogues and homes, are favored by a majority of Virginians, according to a December poll conducted by the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

But organizations, including Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, Everytown for Gun Safety and some groups hosting tributes to Dr. King, called off their efforts planned for Monday out of fear of possible violent clashes with the armed groups that took over Downtown. Bracing for white supremacists and other extremist groups who reportedly planned to attend the rally, many right-minded people simply stayed away from Downtown.

Gov. Ralph S. Northam also appropriately placed a temporary ban on weapons inside Capitol Square during the days surrounding the gun rights rally. We believe such a ban in that public space should be made permanent.

The FBI also last week arrested six people associated with the Base, a white extremist, anti-government group aiming to start a race war. Three of the men, authorities said, had weapons and discussed attending the rally.