State Watch

Virginia governor declares state of emergency to temporarily ban weapons on Capitol grounds

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday declared a state of emergency to temporarily ban individuals from carrying weapons on the grounds of the state Capitol ahead of a gun rights rally planned next week.

Northam said in a statement that his office had received credible intelligence of "threats of violence" surrounding the demonstration and that it included "extremist rhetoric" comparable to the Unite the Right white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. 

He added that evidence suggested that militia and out-of-state hate groups were planning to "come to the Capitol to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence."

"Based on these threats, I am declaring a state of emergency in Richmond from Friday evening until Tuesday evening. This will include a ban on weapons of any kind in Capitol Square during that time," he said. 

The move comes as Northam and other Democratic leaders in the state pledge to move forward with a slate of gun-control measures during this year's General Assembly session. Northam promised to move forward with the initiative in November after Democrats secured both chambers of the state legislature for the first time since 1994. 

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, the organizers of the rally, has said that the demonstration will draw thousands to the area, The Washington Post reported. The group's Facebook event page indicates that more than 5,000 say they will attend.

Northam's announcement comes just days after Democratic leaders utilized a special rules committee to prohibit guns inside the Capitol and legislative office building. 

The Post noted that hundreds of gun rights activists showed up to the Capitol on Monday to protest the ban of firearms in the Capitol and legislative office buildings and to testify against the first gun control bills introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The committee advanced four bills to the state Senate that day including a measure requiring background checks on all gun purchases and one allowing law enforcement to temporarily take firearms from individuals deemed to be a risk. 

"For the first time in decades, commonsense gun safety measures are finally advancing in the Virginia legislature," Northam said on Twitter. "This is the first step in the process - Virginians are demanding real action on gun violence, and they are watching."

Security at the Capitol has significantly increased at the start of the new General Assembly session. The State Police has reportedly been providing backup for Capitol Police and crews have been creating crowd-control barricades around the Capitol.

While making his announcement, Northam asked non-essential state employees not to come to work on Monday. Despite being a holiday, next Monday is traditionally a citizen lobbying day in the General Assembly. 

The governor said that he would coordinate with state, Capitol and Richmond police to oversee the planned protest. 

"We support citizens' rights to peacefully protest and express their views to their elected officials," he said. "But we must also keep the public, as well as those who work around Capitol Square, safe."

--This report was updated at 4:12 p.m.

Outbrain