VIRGINIA (AP) — Fearing a repeat of the deadly violence that engulfed Charlottesville more than two years ago, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a temporary emergency yesterday banning all weapons, including guns, from Capitol Square ahead of a massive rally planned next week over gun rights.
The governor, a Democrat, announced the temporary emergency at a news conference yesterday afternoon due to credible threats of potential violence and extremism, one official said.
Northam’s announcement came days after Democratic leaders used 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 where a huge number of gun-rights advocates rallied on 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 attending Monday’s rally.
The official said the state does not have intelligence that the groups are planning a specific act of violence. 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.
Northam’s declaration will also ban items like helmets and shields, items that some white nationalists carried in Charlottesville.
It’s unclear how long the temporary ban will be in effect.
Virginia law enforcement officials have been criticised 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 ploughed into a group of counter-protesters.
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.