A group called the Virginia Kekoas showed up with some members armed. Kekoa means "warrior" in Hawaiian. Photo by Chip Lauterbach.

RICHMOND — The Virginia Citizens Defense League held its annual Lobby Day pro-gun rally outside of the legislative offices of the General Assembly on Monday, while inside the VCDL arranged meet-and-greets between lawmakers and pro-Second Amendment Virginians. 

The VCDL organized buses to bring in Second Amendment advocates from all over the state to visit legislative offices and to speak directly with lawmakers, voicing their opposition to any proposed gun control bills and to lend support to any bills that would expand on gun rights in the current General Assembly session. 

VCDL President Philip Van Cleave expressed his relief and optimism as the Republican leadership takes charge in the governor’s office and House of Delegates at the start of a new General Assembly session. (The Senate remains under Democratic control.)

“What the previous governor was trying to do was one of the most aggressive attacks on the Second Amendment and individual liberty,” Van Cleave said. “The hope now is to see what gets accomplished, and maybe we can help expand the freedoms of Virginians instead of limiting them.”

Outside the Pocahontas Building, several groups of armed pro-gun supporters including Boogaloo Bois (which the Anti-Defamation League calls an “anti-government extremist movement”), and BLM757 (a Black Lives Matter group from Hampton Roads) had organized a canned food drive to help collect food for a local church. 

Among the gun rights activists who braved the cold winds was Stephen Harper, who drove with several friends from Roanoke. Harper recalled that the momentum of the 2020 Lobby Day is what got him interested in the fighting against gun control.

“Obviously we knew it wasn’t going to be like a few years ago, but we still wanted to come out here and show our legislators that the Second Amendment is still one of the main driving forces in politics,” Harper said. “If you ask me, I think that gun control was the biggest reason the Democrats didn’t do so well in this last election.”

During the 2020 General Assembly session, lawmakers had proposed a series of laws including bans on so-called assault rifles and restrictions on magazine capacity. The proposed bills ended up being unpopular with a majority of Virginians despite political affiliations and led to a pro-gun rally that had an estimated 22,000 gun rights supporters surrounding Capitol Square.  

This year with the House of Delegates returning to GOP control and Republican Glenn Youngkin in the governor’s mansion, the goal of the VCDL and the other pro-gun groups is to undo the laws that Democrats passed in recent years, with bills in both the House and Senate to repeal the law limiting handgun purchases to one every 30 days. In the Virginia Senate, a bill proposed by Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania County, would allow for permitless concealed carry.

VCDL representative Brandon Howard, who is also the president of Right To Bear Arms Virginia, has been coming to Lobby Day in support of Second Amendment causes since 2013.

“Our mission is simple: We are citizens educating citizens,” said Howard. “We educate and we advocate for our Second Amendment rights and we come out here to make sure that not only are the everyday citizens educated on what they can do to help expand the Second Amendment, but also the politicians who will be the ones writing the laws.”

Despite a law going into effect in April 2021 that banned citizens from carrying guns on or near Capitol Square, those who showed up armed said they weren’t worried about facing any repercussions. One of the rally attendees who did not give his name laughed at the idea of the ban, calling it “impossible to enforce.”

“We’re not here to harm or intimidate anyone, but to think we’re going to comply with such a ridiculous law is laughable,” he said. “If it contradicts or tries to circumvent the Constitution, then a little bit of polite civil disobedience never hurt anybody.”

Chip Lauterbach

Chip Lauterbach served in the Marines but then decided to go to college for journalism. He likes being outdoors and spends most of his time near Richmond.