Judge’s upholding of firearms ban for Virginia gun rally appealed

A Virginia judge ruled Thursday that a firearms ban can stay in place during a planned pro-gun rally on the Capitol grounds in Richmond. The ruling upholding the ban was quickly appealed.

Governor Ralph Northam imposed the ban ahead of Monday’s rally after law enforcement officials said they’d received “credible and serious threats.”

A lawsuit challenging Northam’s decision was filed by Gun Owners of America, Inc. (GOA), Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), and citizens Kenneth VanWyk, Erich Pratt, and John Velleco, who are all planning to attend Monday’s rally, according to CBS Richmond affiliate WTVR. Of the three individuals filing the lawsuit, two are executive members of the GOA, and the third is a member of the VCDL.

The plaintiffs argued the firearms ban violates the First and Second Amendments and that Northam didn’t have the authority to impose it. According to The Associated Press, Judge Joi Taylor said in her ruling the governor has the authority under state law to take action related to the “safety and welfare” of the state. Taylor also cited rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court that the right to bear arms can be subject to limits.

But the AP reports that after Taylor upheld the ban, lawyers for the GOA and VCDL filed an emergency petition asking Virginia’s Supreme Court to review the ruling and immediately issue an order prohibiting enforcement of the ban. It wasn’t immediately clear when the court would hear the appeal.

Taylor’s ruling came just a few hours after the arrest of three suspected white supremacists who were believed to be heading to the Richmond rally.

Former FBI special agent in charge Katherine Schweit said “the threat in this kind of situation is with 1,500 rounds in semi-automatic weapons, hundreds of people could go down in seconds.”

One of the rally’s organizers, Philip Van Cleave, said Monday’s rally should not be canceled because of the three men arrested.

“They’re the problem makers, they’re trying to create problems, the police will handle them, we will go on. We will not let them deter us or slow us down,” Van Cleave said.

Northam has said he wants to prevent another incident like Charlottesville, where in August 2017, a woman was killed and dozens more injured when a white supremacist rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters during a white nationalist rally.

Newly elected Virginia Democrats have said they plan to make gun control a priority. An assault weapons ban, red flag laws and universal background checks have all been proposed.

Republicans oppose the new gun measures, and municipalities across the state have declared themselves sanctuary cities for the Second Amendment and will refuse to use their resources to prosecute any state gun laws they deem unconstitutional. Virginia Beach, where 12 people were killed in a shooting rampage at a municipal building in May 2019, last week adopted a resolution declaring itself a “Second Amendment Constitutional City.”

Jeff Pegues contributed to this report.

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