Gun Owners Make Themselves Heard at Virginia Capitol

(AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Hundreds of gun owners from across the state of Virginia turned out at the statehouse in Richmond to lobby for their Second Amendment rights on Monday, undeterred by the prospect of a winter storm and chilly temperatures. While the gathering was smaller than the massive crowds of gun owners that we saw at Lobby Day back in 2020, the Lobby Day rally hosted by the Virginia Citizens Defense League appears to have been better attended than an afternoon rally put on by gun control advocates at the same location on the grounds of the state Capitol. The Richmond Times Dispatch reports “hundreds” of gun owners turned out for the rally on Monday morning, while “about 100” gun control supporters were on hand a few hours later.


The Second Amendment supporters who gathered to lobby lawmakers to defend their right to keep and bear arms heard from a number of speakers, including VCDL president Phillip Van Cleave, Guns and Gadgets host Jared Yanis, GOA’s Erich Pratt, advocate and author Dan Wos, as well as some guy from Farmville, Virginia.

Wearing orange “guns save lives” stickers and armed with custom-made or VCDL-branded signs, the group listened to speakers, including Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America.

“We cannot compromise,” Pratt told the rally’s attendees, “because every new compromise becomes the starting point for the next set of calls for gun control.”

Farmville resident Cam Edwards said the Democratic majority in the House and Senate has “decided that we are the problem.”

He noted how the second bill Democrats filed this session is an attempt to prohibit new sales of assault-style weapons. While the measure cleared the Senate with bipartisan support last year, it fell in the then-Republican-led House of Delegates. Democrats now hold a 51-49 edge in the House and a 21-19 edge in the state Senate.

While he believes some of the lawmakers who support Democratic-led gun bills have good intentions, he said there are instances where easier access to a firearm could help protect people’s safety.

“They think they’re alongside the angels fighting for a righteous cause,” Edwards said. “But when their laws would disarm a single mom, who would be told ‘you gotta wait five days to get a gun’ even though your abusive ex is probably going to come over to kill you tonight — that’s not a righteous cause.”


As I pointed out in my remarks, there are some real problems for Virginia lawmakers to address this session, but lawful gun ownership isn’t one of them. Anti-gun Democrats have made restricting our right to keep and bear arms a top priority when we have a couple of major crises in the Commonwealth that need urgent attention. It’s estimated that in 2023 there were 2,657 drug overdose deaths in Virginia, more than all gun-related and vehicle-related deaths combined.

That seems to be a much bigger problem than someone lawfully carrying their gun into a restaurant that welcomes concealed carry holders, doesn’t it?

We’ve also seen Democrats introduce bills to expand the state’s “red flag” law while ignoring the lack of space (and care) for those suffering from acute mental health issues.

Virginia’s nine psychiatric hospitals — eight of which serve adults and one, the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents in Staunton, devoted to youth — have increasingly found themselves short on both beds and staff. While industry standards say no more than 85% of staffed beds at psychiatric hospitals should be filled due to safety concerns, JLARC found that bed capacity at seven state hospitals routinely exceeds 95%, with three operating at 100%.

The crisis peaked in 2021, when staff shortages caused the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to close five state hospitals to new admissions.

Officials and experts say overcrowding in psychiatric hospitals produces risks for both patients and staff. JLARC’s findings bear that out: Between January 2022 and May 2023, the commission found 7,400 “physical incidents” occurred between patients at state psychiatric hospitals, with nearly 900 of them resulting in patient injury. At least 20% of staff at all nine hospitals reported they did not believe their facility was a safe place for patients; at Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Danville, that percentage was 42%.

Among the worst hospitals identified by JLARC is the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents, which mostly serves youth between the ages of 12 and 17 and which the commission recommends lawmakers consider closing.

CCCA “has the highest rate of patient-on-patient and patient-on-staff physical safety incidents, the highest rate of patient self-harm, the highest number and percentage of substantiated human rights complaints, the highest use of physical restraint against patients, the highest staff turnover, nearly the highest staff vacancy rate, and the greatest dependence on expensive contract staff,” the commission wrote. An unannounced inspection of the facility in May by national accrediting agency the Joint Commission found 28 serious violations, leading the behavioral health department to determine the hospital was “an immediate threat to the health and safety of patients.”


What do we do with individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others? According to gun control fans, we just need to take any legally owned guns away and the problem is solved. Why bother trying to fix a complicated a problem that leaves those in crisis stuck in an ER or a jail cell for days waiting for space to open up at an overcrowded facility when they can expand the reporting criteria for an Extreme Risk Protection Order and proclaim they’ve “done something”.

The onslaught of gun control bills filed in Richmond this session are repugnant to the Constitution and an affront to common sense, and I’m glad that hundreds of my fellow Virginia gun owners showed up to speak their minds and lobby their delegates and state senators to quit demonizing gun owners and focus on the real problems confronting our state instead. We still have a very tough session ahead of us, but we’re not backing down or shying away from defending a fundamental civil right in the face of the Democrats’ massive resistance to the right to keep and bear arms.


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