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After the rally / January 22, 2020
Second Amendment advocates have every right to be pleased with and proud of the Lobby Day gun rights rally that took place in Richmond on Monday. The event drew a massive turnout. There were no run-ins with police or violent episodes. The message was sent loud and clear: a substantial percentage of Virginians, particularly in rural areas, disagree with the push by Democrats in Richmond to enact new gun laws.

Will the rally be deemed a success weeks and months from now? You might want to ask a woman you know (or one you don’t) about that.

Flashback to three years ago: an estimated half a million people gathered at the nation’s capital for the Woman’s March of 2017. It was the single largest one-day protest in American history. Beyond Washington, an estimated one million-plus people participated in marches around the country, men and women alike, encompassing people of all races and orientations. The march was wildly successful in conveying the sense of dismay and disgust that many people held then (and hold now) over the election of Donald Trump as president. On its own terms, the march was very effective.

On different terms — did it slow down the Trump Administration in any way? — the protest was a dud. But it set a tone: a tone that only yields tangible results through elections. How that plays out in the here and now, to state the painfully obvious, remains to be seen. We’ve finally reached the seminal, dreadful-for-somebody turning point election year of 2020. May the best presidential candidate win.

Readers will know already where we stand on the matter of a second term for Donald Trump. But let’s set aside that discussion for now and return to the Great Richmond Gun Rights Rally of 2020: protests can be terrific for galvanizing public opinion, but elections are the ultimate expression of the same. After the public square empties out and everyone goes home, there remains one great arbiter of where and how far political leaders can take their policy aspirations: the ballot box. Democrats ran in the 2019 legislative elections on a loud-and-proud platform of tightening up Virginia’s gun laws. They can and will look upon the 22,000 people that massed in Richmond on Monday and say: Some 2.3 million Virginians voted in 2019. A majority of them voted for us. Our candidates won the House of Delegates and the state Senate, on top of Democratic officials already holding every statewide office in Virginia: Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and Virginia’s two U.S. Senate seats. Our time to make the laws of the Commonwealth is here.

Rally or no rally, there’s only one effective retort to that claim: Gun rights supporters, through their chosen political vessel of the Republican Party, need to start winning elections. And perhaps Monday’s protest will be a big first step towards that goal.

But probably not.

On the same day that 2A Sanctuary activists and thousands of engaged citizens gathered in Richmond, the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News reported the results of its latest survey of Virginians’ attitudes on gun control. While a substantial share of the public has written off polling as a meaningful gauge of public opinion, it’s worth noting that the Wason Center polls have been highly accurate in forecasting election outcomes in the state. The Wason Center predicted early on that Democrats would win control of the General Assembly in 2019. They weren’t wrong.

From Monday’s news drop:

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – As thousands rally against gun control proposals at the Virginia General Assembly, the most recent statewide poll shows overwhelming voter support for universal background checks (86 percent-13 percent) and a red-flag law (73 percent-23 percent), with a slight majority in favor of a ban on assault-style weapons (54 percent-44 percent). The poll of registered voters was released Dec. 16 by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

“Gun control opponents had a very strong turnout for Monday’s rally, but the majority of voters want the General Assembly to pass some gun restrictions,” Wason Center Director Quentin Kidd said. “And it’s not just urban and suburban voters. You don’t get those overwhelming majorities without support in rural Virginia, too.”

These results are part of the Wason Center’s annual State of the Commonwealth voter survey on issues before the Virginia legislature. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.4 percent.

.... Let us add here that these Virginia results are not terribly different than what you see around the country: Opinion has hardened against Second Amendment absolutism, even as the public remains much more ambivalent about some of the stronger gun control measures on the table, such as banning assault-style weapons. Shorn of the emotions that have risen up over the issue of guns, lawmakers probably could work out a deal to allow hunters and others who can demonstrate a legitimate use for high-powered weaponry to purchase such firearms. That is, if this issue could be shorn of emotion. After so many innocents gunned down by madmen with high-capacity rifles and handguns, that’s a tall order to satisfy.

And sorry: while hunters and people who own guns for purposes of self-defense have good arguments to make for limited government vis-a-vis gun ownership, their cause is disserved by inflammatory rhetoric and images broadcast around the world of bristling, armor-clad gun owners marching down city streets as if preparing to go off to war. Then there’s this, from Tuesday:

Before being arrested by the FBI last week, three alleged members of a white supremacist group were plotting deadly attacks at Monday’s gun rights rally in Richmond, including shooting “unsuspecting civilians and police officers” in hopes of igniting what one called a “full-blown civil war,” authorities said in court filings.

In legal motions filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Maryland, prosecutors said the three suspects, who were under investigation for weeks before the rally, were recorded discussing the planned mayhem by a microphone and video camera secretly planted in a Delaware apartment by FBI agents in December.

“We can’t let Virginia go to waste, we just can’t,” one of the men, Patrik J. Mathews, said, according to the court filings. Like his co-defendants, Mathews is accused of belonging to a militant hate group whose name, “the Base,” is a rough English translation of “al-Qaeda.”

.... “Virginia will be our day,” another of the three, Brian M. Lemley Jr., said, according to the court documents.

The report above, headlined “Alleged white supremacists planned deadly violence at Richmond gun rally, federal prosecutors say,” comes courtesy of The Washington Post, another oft-dismissed news source among the Fake News crowd (who watch Fox News, it must be added.) But the legal filings were prepared by federal prosecutors who work for the Trump Justice Department. The findings of the U.S. Attorneys probably don’t square with what Trump himself believes, judging from everything we’ve learned in the past three years. But this news is more than enough to put to rest the claim that Gov. Ralph Northam overstepped when he declared a state of emergency at the Capitol for Monday’s rally.

Worry averted. The rally proved to be a triumph of free expression by thousands of law-abiding gun owners, surely as the protestors themselves want to be recognized. Nothing went down Monday that upends that objective.. But let’s all be honest with ourselves: whatever you may think about the rally, pro or con, surely somewhere in the mix of feelings is a sense of relief that the entire business didn’t turn ugly. No one needs to bring a gun to a public protest to make their voices heard. The fact that Second Amendment extremists seem to feel otherwise is why, massive rally turnout or no, they’re not likely to win in the wider court of public opinion anytime soon.

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