It’s hard to believe that it was less than a year ago when more than 20,000 gun owners took to the streets around the state capitol building in Richmond, Virginia to rally in opposition to Gov. Ralph Northam’s gun control agenda. If anti-gun advocates on the Richmond City Council get their way, that rally will likely be the last mass gathering of armed citizens lobbying in defense of their Second Amendment rights.
City council members on Tuesday approved an ordinance pushed by Mayor Levar Stoney that would ban the carrying of firearms “in any public street, road, alley, sidewalk, public right-of-way or any open public space when it is being used by, or is adjacent to, an event that requires a city permit.”
“I just think that if you’re going to a public event, you should be able to go there and enjoy yourself, go there for your cause, and not feel under constant threat because of individuals walking around with an AK-47,” Stoney said previously.
There were some questions asked in the meeting on Aug. 20 about guns not being allowed “adjacent” to events. The mayor clarified that saying sometimes when there’s a protest or rally, there are counter-protesters who may bring weapons.
In addition to the massive rally by gun owners back in January, there’ve been a couple of other Second Amendment rallies on Capitol Square over the past several months. We’ve also seen a number of armed protesters around the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, which has become the focal point of BLM protests in the city since June. Under this new ordinance, it’s likely that none of this activity would be legal, which raises some serious questions about the constitutionality of the law.
City councilwoman Kim Gray says she believes the language of the ordinance could also spell trouble for legal gun owners who aren’t a part of any protest or a permitted event.
During the meeting, Police Chief Gerald Smith said private gun-owning citizens who have homes where protests are taking place outside of would be exempt from the ordinance, but 2nd District council member Kim Gray says the law the language of the law doesn’t specifically say that.
“The actual language of the law does not provide an exemption so if I’m stepping on to the sidewalk to get into my car, then I’m potentially in violation of that rule if there is a protest adjacent to that public right of way,” said Gray. “I think the real answers in that prevention lie in leveraging our community leaders.”
Gray’s not exactly a Second Amendment advocate, but she’s right about the vague language of the bill. Of course, even the specific intent of the legislation is problematic from a constitutional standpoint. The city might be able to get away with banning guns in the public space that is being used for a permitted event, but banning the possession of firearms from adjacent areas outside of the permitted event would render the right to carry meaningless.
Under this ordinance, it would be a crime to drive down a city street with your lawfully possessed firearm if there was a street festival or a protest on the next block over. Gun owners who have no idea that an event is even taking place would still be committing a crime by simply walking near the gathering.
With the new ordinance taking effect immediately, I’m guessing we won’t have long to wait until a lawsuit is filed challenging the constitutionality of Richmond’s new carry ban. I suspect, however, that other Virginia cities may soon follow Richmond’s lead and pass their own anti-carry statutes in the weeks ahead.