Are Virginia Democrats Playing Political Games With Lobby Day?

You may remember the massive turnout by gun owners in Richmond, Virginia back in January of this year, when tens of thousands of folks surrounded the state Capitol and filled the downtown streets for the annual Lobby Day rally organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League. I was honored to be among the speakers addressing the throng of Second Amendment supporters who gathered for a peaceful yet boisterous protest of the anti-gun agenda of Democrats who had just taken control of the state legislature, and I’ve been looking forward to next year’s rally ever since.

Well, things are going to be a little different in 2021, because somehow gun control activists were given most of the permits that are necessary to hold a public event on the Capitol grounds.

“Games are being played to silence us,” Philip van Cleave of the Virginia Citizens Defense League told his members in an email Tuesday.

When he called the state Department of Government Services to arrange a Jan. 18 permit for a rally on Capitol Square, van Cleave said he was told the only time slots available were 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Everything else had been booked by groups advocating for gun control.

“This was a thinly veiled effort to lock us out,” van Cleave said in an interview. His organization sponsored the gathering that drew thousands of armed gun-rights advocates to Richmond on Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a traditional day of citizen lobbying at the General Assembly.

Of course officials are denying that any favoritism of any kind took place in ensuring that the anti-gun groups would be able to occupy the grounds for their rally. Department of Government Services spokeswoman Dena Potter told the Washington Post that permits are issued “in the order in which the applications are received.” In other words, first come, first served.

Lori Haas, a longtime gun control activist in Virginia, told the Post that her organization applied for their permit more than a year ago.

There’s nothing nefarious, nothing underhanded, nothing untoward that I know of that took place,” Haas said. Her group had been scheduled to hold an event on Capitol Square last January — as they have every year for more than two decades — but canceled once the pro-gun rally drew national attention.

In calling state officials to cancel, Haas said, she simply asked to grab a spot next year instead. Then she told other groups what she had done, and they followed suit.

As VCDL head Phillip Van Cleave explained to members, however, the state appears to have changed the rules for getting a permit without informing the public.

VCDL was told years ago that an application to use the Bell Tower for an event more than six months out would not even be accepted.  We have followed that rule, booked six months out, and gotten the 11 am slot for 17 years.  This year, when we applied exactly six months out, we were told that the 11 am slot was already booked!  In fact, every slot was filled except the 6 am and 6 pm slots.

How was that even possible?  We had booked right at the six month mark.

We got a copy of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) document containing the applications that had been accepted by the Department of General Services (DGS) for Lobby Day on January 18, 2021.  Lo and behold – the 11am slot had been requested by Andrew Goddard and Lori Haas with the Virginia Center For Public Safety (a gun-control group with ties to Michael Bloomberg).  Here’s the kicker – DGS accepted the application, which had been filed OVER A YEAR IN ADVANCE (January 14, 2020)!  That was even before the VCDL’s 2020 Lobby Day event!

If Lori Haas’s name sounds familiar, she’s the paid gun-control lobbyist who the Democrats put on the supposedly non-partisan Crime Commission a few months ago, destroying the Commission’s credibility on any gun-related items.

The other slots were taken by the following organizations (note the dates the applications were submitted – all self-proclaimed progressive organizations, all magically within a few days of Goddard’s application, and all before VCDL’s Lobby Day 2020!):

9 am: Care in Action.  Applied on January 17, 2020.
1 pm: Progress Virginia (another gun-control rally).  Applied on January 17, 2020.
3 pm: New Virginia Majority.  Applied on January 19, 2020.

DGS’s own rules say they will grant the venues to the first applicant with a valid application.  That would have made VCDL the first valid applicant for the 11 am slot (or any of the slots for that matter). But that’s not what is being done.

And that’s not all:  notification of who has actually gotten the slots won’t be known until mid-December, making planning for such an event very difficult.

Van Cleave will be joining me later today on Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co to talk about the new plans for 2A supporters and Lobby Day, which won’t involve massing at the Capitol but will instead focus on a caravan of pro-gun Virginians motoring their way through downtown.

VCDL’s lobbying effort on January 18 is going to consist of thousands of vehicles in four major caravans coming from the corners of the state and all of them headed to Richmond!  We will post the times the various caravans should be passing key locations so those along the routes can join the caravans as it passes by their area.

The four major caravans will all flood into the Richmond area over a 4 hour period in the afternoon and will pass through the center of Richmond, near wherever the Senate is meeting.

With Democrats expected to once again push to enact Gov. Ralph Northam’s gun ban in the next legislative session, I expect that the streets of Richmond are going to be jammed with cars and buses from across the state. I know I’ll be behind the wheel on January 18th, and I suspect that my fellow Virginia gun owners aren’t going to let the political games being played at the Capitol stop us from turning out in force to show our support for the right to keep and bear arms.