We begin with an epic Constitutional battle in Virginia that’s drawing national attention. Inside of two months, nearly every county in the state has passed new measures supporting Constitutional gun rights. The effort culminated with a massive, peaceful rally at the state capitol this past week where the Governor declared a state of emergency and warned there could be violence. We investigate what triggered a movement that is now being watched by both sides across the U.S.
This was the scene as thousands of gun rights advocates turned out for one of the biggest rallies in memory at Richmond, Virginia’s Capitol.
Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in advance and temporarily banned guns on Capitol grounds. But outside the perimeter thousands peacefully filled the streets, many of them armed.
The protests were triggered by a political sea change in the Old Dominion State. Democrats have just taken over the majority in both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates for the first time in more than 20 years.
Together with Governor Ralph Northam, also a Democrat, they’ve promised one of the biggest single packages of new gun restrictions anyone can recall. It’s popular among gun control advocates, but opponents say it raises constitutional concerns and worry the government could go so far as to confiscate legally purchased firearms.
To understand the massive backlash here it helps to understand how Virginians pride themselves on their independence dating back to when the state was the largest and most populated of the original colonies. It played a major role in the breakaway from the British and determining guarantees under a new American constitution and Bill of Rights which includes the right to bear arms.
History was in the forefront at a meeting in Stafford County, Virginia called to fight new gun restrictions.
Speaker: Stafford claims greatest American of all, George Washington!
George Washington moved here with his family in 1738 when he was 6 years old.
Speaker: Two thousand citizens on their own have come out here at night to declare the sacrosanct rights which they were born with.
Stafford County is in a wave of Virginia localities that have held overflow crowd emergency meetings to declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuary cities or Constitutional havens.
Speaker: As long as I am on the board with you, we will partner with the sheriff, Sheriff Decatur who’s in audience and that Stafford residents never ever have to worry about our police going to their door to confiscate their weapons as good honest law-abiding citizens.
Speaker: The law-abiding gun owners will not go quietly into the night we will not sit idly by as we watch the Governor subvert government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Mark Dudenhefer, County Board of Supervisors: The gall of those men to even hint or suggest calling out the national guard to enforce some of these crazy ideas that they have. And I’ll say, hey Ralphie, have you looked at what the demographics of our national guard are? They’re not coming to get us. They’re coming to get you!
Speaker: Tally vote, motion passes seven to nothing.
New proposed state laws have included bans on assault weapons, silencers and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Raising the age to buy a gun from 18 to 21.
A limit of one handgun purchase a month.
An expanded definition of “assault” weapons; owning or transporting one would be a felony.
Banning private indoor gun ranges.
And “red flag” laws where guns can be temporarily confiscated from people exhibiting “dangerous behavior that presents an immediate threat.”
One draft bill would have outlawed some now-legal guns, redefining them as “assault” weapons, making millions of Virginians felons overnight, according to the National Rifle Association. The Governor has since said current owners could keep their guns, as long as they register them with the government.
Since November 6, 130 Virginia counties, towns, and cities have passed pro-Second Amendment legislation. That includes 91 out of 95 of Virginia’s counties.
We headed to Virginia Beach the night of their special meeting.
It’s where a disgruntled city employee named Dewayne Craddock shot and killed 12 people in a mass shooting last May.
It's about an hour before the meeting here in Virginia Beach and there's already a huge line. The vast majority of the people waiting are wearing these orange stickers, “Guns Save Lives,” indicating they are pro-gun rights.
Man: I know that if anybody is going to get guns taken away from them, it's going to be people who go have them legally because that's the only ones that have them on record.
So I don't think that's right.
Virginia Beach Council Member Jim Wood is one of the sponsors of the pro-gun rights measure.
Sharyl: What does it say?
Jim Wood: It says we are encouraging the general assembly to uphold the constitution and to take no action that infringes on the second amendment.
Sharyl: And what would be the net impact if that's approved?
Wood: Well, I, I think it's, it's part of a, of a overall impact that's going around the entire state where, where people are expressing their opinion on this and in a peaceful manner.
Like the rest of Virginia’s local meetings, gun control advocates are, for the most part, staying home.
We found only one person on the other side in line.
Lexi Hickman: Obviously, what we're doing isn't working. If we're having mass shootings or the amount of gun violence that we already have. We still need to work on it. Not just say, well we can't do anything cause it's an Amendment.
Mayor Robert Dodd: By the authority vested in me as Mayor of the city of Virginia Beach, I hear bye call a special session of the Virginia Beach City Council.
There were so many people, they set up a TV monitor on the lawn outside. They too passed their gun rights measure.
Mayor Dodd: OK, please.
Speaker: By vote of 6 to 4, you’ve adopted the resolution.
Neither Governor Northam nor top Democratic legislators responded to our interview requests.
The Governor recently addressed the movement to fight his new gun laws in his annual state of the commonwealth address.
Governor Ralph Northam: It’s clear that a majority of Virginians support these measures, and so do a majority of you. I ask all Virginians to refrain from promoting fear and intimidation.
I want to reiterate: This common-sense legislation does not violate the Second Amendment. No one is calling out the National Guard. No one is cutting off your electricity or turning off the Internet. No one is going door-to-door to confiscate guns. These laws are intended to keep Virginians safe. Period. It is time to act.
No matter what local ordinances have been passed, Virginia’s attorney general promises new gun laws will be enforced. Gun rights advocates insist they’ll protect their Constitutional rights.
New gun restrictions are being proposed right now in other states including Minnesota, Nebraska, Indiana, Rhode Island, Arizona, Georgia, Alabama and Washington State.