Shades of Charlottesville?

Peaceful rallies, please

by James A. Bacon

Gun rights advocates and militia members from around the country are planning to descend on Richmond later this month to protest the enactment of gun-control bills in the General Assembly. As the Washington Post reports, the Second Amendment sanctuary movement has jumped Virginia’s borders. “Far-right websites and commentators are declaring that Virginia is the place to take a stand against what they see as a national trend of weakening gun rights.”

If you think this sounds like Charlottesville redux — a replay of the violent far-right Unite the Right rally of three years ago — you’re not the only one. Law-enforcement officials say they are monitoring the situation. Even Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said he is keeping lines of communications open so all sides are prepared. “Hopefully it’ll not be another Charlottesville,” he said.

There are a couple of important differences this time. First, the Second Amendment movement in Virginia reflects a widespread popular sentiment, not the fringe views of mostly out-of-state Klansmen, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Second, there is no indication yet that Antifa or other ultra-leftists are mobilizing to counter the gun-rights crowd. Third, there is always the possibility that law-enforcement authorities learned from their mistakes in Charlottesville and will be better prepared this time. And fourth, whether you agree with his politics or not, Van Cleave seems to have his head screwed on tight. Reports the WaPo:

Van Cleave has appealed to his supporters not to come bristling with intimidating long guns — including assault-style rifles such as the AR-15 — and politely suggested that militia members are welcome but do not need to provide security. Police will take care of that, he said, “not to mention enough citizens armed with handguns to take over a modern midsized country.”

But anything is possible. The Post cites wild rumors circulating on social media, such as one that United Nations “disarmanent officers” have descended on Virginia. Moreover, you never know when right-wing crazies have their wildest fears confirmed by reckless comments from the left, like those of U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, who suggested that Governor Ralph Northam might have to call out the National Guard to enforce the gun laws.

Bacon’s bottom line: I’m not invested in the gun-rights debate. I don’t own guns, never have. The last time I shot a gun, using a 22-caliber for target practice, was when I was 12 years old. I don’t find Governor Northam’s gun-control proposals to be unreasonable, although I acknowledge the complexities of the issues involved and am willing to entertain the counter-arguments of gun-rights advocates. I also sympathize with those who say a well-armed (but law-abiding) citizenry is the nation’s greatest defense against a tyrannical government.

Both sides of the gun-rights debate share one common goal — not to have another Charlottesville. While most of the violence was instigated by out-of-zealots, the international headlines from that confrontation gave Charlottesville and Virginia a black eye. Virginians are not a violent people. We are a low-crime, low-violence state. Regardless, as fate would have it, the next phase of the national gun-control debate will be fought out in the Old Dominion, and lots of outsiders have an interest in the outcome. Let all people of good will do everything within their power to ensure that the debate is conducted in a way that reflects well on the Commonwealth.