‘The fear is the people from outside’: Gun control groups cancel trips to Richmond

Published: Jan. 20, 2020 at 10:50 AM EST
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Several groups across Virginia decided to cancel their trips to the State Capitol Monday out of fear for safety.

Members with the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention announced Friday afternoon they had canceled the bus they rented in order to travel for Lobby Day.

However, they’re not the only group changing plans after Governor Northam declared a state of emergency after receiving intelligence reports of "credible threats of violence" ahead of Monday’s rally.

"We have a feeling there are going to be a lot of people there who are not the regular Virginians who are looking after their gun rights, but people from outside who have agendas way beyond that," said Andrew Goddard, the Legislative Director for Virginia Center for Public Safety.

For years, the Virginia Center for Public Safety has held a gun violence vigil at the State Capitol on Lobby Day. Families affected by gun violence join together in solidarity to remember their loved ones.

However, now, fear for safety on Monday has set in for many of these families, leaving Goddard with a difficult decision.

“We bring in buses from other parts of Virginia with Virginians and we’ve had to cancel all those buses,” he said.

Many other groups have also made the decision not to bus people in for the rally.

“It’s with regret that we are canceling our annual trip to Richmond to attend the Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally and to meet with our legislators in support of common sense gun legislation,” said a member of the Charlottesville League of Women Voters’ committee on Gun Safety. “The legislation we support in no way takes away the rights of law-abiding firearm owners, but rather will make Virginia a safer place to live. Due to the Governor’s caution and declaring a state of emergency we made the decision not to attend. This however in no way will stop our support and advocacy for commonsense gun legislation."

"It's very frustrating,” said Judith Freeman, a spokeswoman for the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention. “We feel like our opportunity at democracy has been compromised."

“It’s just annoying that the rights of one group get to supersede the rights of another,” Goddard added. “My first amendment rights are being squashed.”

Goddard said what happened in Charlottesville during the Unite the Right Rally two years ago was weighing on his mind, when he and leaders of other groups decided to cancel their event.

But his message stands.

He says the proposals now advancing in the General Assembly have passed in other states, survived constitutional challenges and are not designed to take away the guns of law-abiding Virginians.

"We've looked at this," Goddard told WDBJ7. "We know that background checks, extreme risk protection orders, things like that, they are not going to stop an ordinary law-abiding Virginian from protecting themselves with a gun, or being able to keep that gun."

The Virginia Citizens Defense League said it plans to peacefully gather at the Capitol, with no violence.

The two opposing groups have been around each other before, but Goddard’s concern goes well beyond safety.

“We don’t want to invite children, we don’t want to invite gun violence victims who have already been traumatized, we don’t want to invite families of gun violence, because the mere fact of having to walk through a group of people... with guns is an intimidation they don’t need,” he said.

It’s a feeling that hits close to home for Goddard whose son, Colin, was a victim at Virginia Tech.

“We don’t want any of those people to even add a small ounce of stress in their lives,” Goddard said.

The Virginia Center for Public Safety has a permit to hold a vigil from 3 p.m. until 4 p.m. Monday, but Goddard said he’s not anticipating a large turnout. He has been in contact with Capitol Police ahead of Monday’s rally.

“The fear is the people from outside; that's the unknown,” he said. “The people from Virginia - we have met them, we have talked to them, we have sat with them, we have had meetings with them for years... but who can you say when you've got people who ended up doing something like what happened in Charlottesville - those people are being invited here, almost, it's ludicrous."

As a precaution for safety, several roads around the Capitol will be closed Monday.

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