Home Guns MLK Day: A Trip to Richmond with Our Gun-Toting Fellow Citizens.

MLK Day: A Trip to Richmond with Our Gun-Toting Fellow Citizens.

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by Michael Beer

I went down to Richmond today, MLK Day, to lobby and counter the gun rally. At 8 am, I left Arlington in a Prius with a friend from Moms Demand Action. We had intended to support counter-protesters and to attend lobby days for progressive groups.

I was expecting enormous pro-gun crowds and feared that parking would be difficult. But we kept driving to the Capitol and found mostly empty streets with some charter buses. In a parking garage, we pulled our little car into a space between two gigantic pickup trucks. There were many such large gas-guzzling vehicles with many out-of-state license plates.

We walked to the Capitol and passed many police working for the state, the city of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University. We talked to two African-American men in their 30’s with big orange stickers that said “Guns Save Lives.” We said we were going to join Black Lives Matter and a lobbying event focused on the needs of people of color.  Unfortunately, these events were cancelled. They said they were veterans and wanted guns to provide home security. We wandered through the streets of the Capitol that were shut off to traffic. We greeted some with “Happy MLK Day”.  We always got courteous responses, despite my colleague’s “pussy hat” and my buttons of progressive causes. We waded through crowds of men who were dressed up like soldiers and carrying semi-automatic weapons.  Looks like people were really into showing off their hardware.

I was afraid that some folks would see my anti-gun button and mob us. So I kept moving, kept my eyes down and never had anyone pay us attention.  People were happy to be there and everyone was polite. Luckily, we didn’t see any neo-Nazi flags and just a few Confederate ones. We were surprised at the paucity of Trump stuff.

Everywhere we looked there were identical orange stickers that said “Guns Save Lives”. It was surprising to see so few hand-made signs, although many folks wore t-shirts, hats, and jackets that had various messages.  There were almost no children, but quite a mix of adult ages. Also, there were mostly men, and overwhelmingly European American. As a veteran of hundreds of protests, I’d say there were 6 to 8 thousand people, much fewer than I anticipated.  Folks did some chants of “USA!” and “Northam Out!”, but there were not many bullhorns. We took some selfies with the crowds in the background to post on our social media pages to let our friends know where we were…and then decided to get out of the crowds and go see our legislators. Unfortunately, the Capitol was difficult to get to because of the crowds.

At 11 am, we waited in a short line at the Pocahontas building, went through a metal detector, and headed up the stairs to cheer up and lobby our legislators. We thanked the offices of 11 Democrats (Favola, Ebbin, Howell, Hope, Levine, Sullivan, Lopez, Guy, Gooditis, Carter, Roem,)  who we have relationships with. Many had large groups of pro-gun advocates early in the morning, but by noon, the halls were remarkably empty despite crowds outside.  Many wanted to display their guns but were not permitted in the building with them. Perhaps this is because many Americans don’t know how to lobby or don’t see its value. So yes, the rally was burdensome on the government because so many police were mobilized and paid overtime. And yes, many legislative staff stayed home. But actually the overall legislative pressure from the pro-gun crowd was modest.

We thanked staffers for their commitments to end gun violence and talked to them about a range of issues that are important to us including support for full net-metering; fighting the gas pipelines; election reform;  supporting anti-discrimination legislation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people; taxing single use plastics; and using the Norfolk ship yards for wind turbine production.

As we walked back to the car, the streets were rapidly clearing by 1 pm. Organizers were picking up trash and cigarette butts off the streets. This is commendable.

Takeaways:

  1. Don’t be intimidated from doing your citizen’s duty to lobby and speak out, particularly on MLK Day. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged terrorism every day with nonviolent action, rather than avoidance or non-risky “service projects.” Let’s make every MLK Day our annual lobby day in Richmond.
  2. Guns were more important to these protesters than Trump. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists were marginalized.
  3. Some pro-gun folks are genuinely afraid. Many have little economic power and they now have lost political power. They believe the guns are one of the last things that gives them power.
  4. We are winning. They are losing. The crowds were not that big.  Their arguments for the individual right to own and carry weapons is weak against the carnage of 100 deaths per day caused by gun pollution in this country. Mark your MLK day calendar next year: Monday January 18. Two days before we inaugurate a Democratic president.