January 18th was a special day in Richmond. It was when private citizens were able to speak with their local representatives to discuss the issues that matter to them most. While it was bitterly cold outside, it didn’t stop supporters of the Second Amendment from venturing into the state capitol to tell Virginia’s lawmakers one simple truth: guns save lives.
Around 11 a.m., members and supporters of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a state-based gun rights organization, gathered near the clock tower in the shadow of the state capitol. At the rally, State Sen. Bryce Reeves thanked these patriots for their support of the Second Amendment, adding that he never felt safer on capitol grounds; a great many VCDL supporters were open carrying their firearms.
The sound system was a bit twitchy by this point, rendering many opening remarks difficult to hear. A survivor of the a 2008 mall shooting in Tukwila, just south of Seattle, Washington said he was a victim of gun violence who saw “first hand” what happens when the wrong people have guns, while the right people are left defenseless. He was in a gun-free zone and the only thought going through his head was where’s my gun?
As the sound system came alive, Delegate Rob Bell and Scott Taylor gave brief remarks as well. Bell, who is set to run against incumbent Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring, slammed his job performance, calling him hostile to Second Amendment rights. He pledged to work for the next 55 days to fix the damage he’s done; Herring recently altered the state’s concealed carry laws–stripping reciprocity with nearly 26 states starting in February. Bell mentioned that it’s time to give AG Herring “no more years” in office when 2017 rolls around.
Delegate Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, said he plans to put forward a bill that would allow National Guardsmen who have obtained a concealed carry permit to carry their firearms in the state; an appropriations bill that will roll back AG Herring’s anti-gun actions and a law that will bar Virginia from recognizing other anti-gun proposals implemented through executive action elsewhere in the country. Shak Hill, a U.S. Air Force veteran and co-chair for Sen. Ted Cruz’s Virginia Leadership Team, also thanked the crowd for all that they do to keep our gun rights safe and added that he’s “very pleased to be packing” at the event.
The special guest of the day was Shaneen Allen, who was incarcerated for 48 days after she accidentally brought her firearm into New Jersey. Allen had been robbed twice, prompting her to obtain a concealed carry permit and a handgun. Yet Allen is a Pennsylvania resident; there is no CCW reciprocity with the Garden State. Allen claims she was racially profiled during a traffic stop, where she ventured into Jersey to set up for a birthday party for one of her kids. While searching through her bag to hand the officer her driver’s license, she felt her handgun. In a panicked state, Allen told the officer that she had a permit and that her firearm was on her person. She was then placed under arrest. She faced a maximum 12-year jail sentence, with a minimum of serving three and half years for illegal possession of a firearm.
Allen thanked the crowd for getting involved after hearing her story. Gun rights activism is partially responsible for Gov. Chris Christie offering a pardon for Allen; she thanked him in her remarks. Yet, she had two very important rules for gun owners and CCW holders: don’t go into New Jersey or Maryland (which drew laughter) and learn the gun laws of any state that you might wander into while traveling.
She also learned something new about New Jersey’s firearms laws while in custody–you need to have the entire firearm disassembled and locked in a separate container while in transit, which leaves the driver absolutely defenseless if confronted with a self-defense situation. She quipped that in New Jersey, only the police and the criminals can be legally armed.
In another observation, Allen learned that every inmate she encountered had a probation officer, they knew each other, and were in jail for much more egregious offenses. Allen said that some had molested children and were being released sooner than her. She also mentioned that most of the inmates told her that she shouldn’t be in prison for her mistake.
Allen finally mentioned Jersey’s Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI), which allows a defendant to seek “opportunities for alternatives (usually rehabilitative services) to the traditional criminal justice process of ordinary prosecution.” It also prevents that person from having a criminal record. Ray Rice was afforded that opportunity because he had money; Allen was not as lucky. In New Jersey, wife beaters get off lightly, while ordinary, law-abiding citizens get put through the grinder for making honest mistakes. That’s not a winning narrative for anti-gun liberals. Yes, Allen broke the law, but the PTI is usually directed towards first-time offenders like her. How the state handled the situation was utterly ridiculous, and the crowd was enthused and moved by her story.
While in holding, Allen was locked up for 20 hours a day. Four hours was the only time she had to eat, wash up, and speak with her kids. She told the crowd that she hopes to establish a nationwide non-profit dedicated to guiding women who are interested in obtaining their concealed carry permits, along with firearm safety.
As the rally wound down, Congressman David Brat (R-VA), who booted Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) in the 2014 primary, spoke briefly saying that many get our Second Amendment rights wrong. He aptly noted that the Second Amendment doesn’t grant us the right to bear arms; it says that right shall not be infringed. Why? Because it is a natural, God-given right that precedes government. He also voiced his support for gun reciprocity legislation for all 50 states, especially in Washington D.C.
As Lobby Day for the VCDL came to a close, the organization’s president, Philip Van Cleave, offered a warning to the Democratic Party who he feels (and he’s probably right) is becoming the party of gun control. It’s already the party of abortion and it’s now trying to firmly entrench itself on another intense social issue. There are 48 gun control bills being introduced this session. Some are duplicates or triplets of what’s already been introduced. Van Cleave also reminded the attendees that this is a bipartisan issue. There are a lot of Democrats who are gun owners, who feel very much the same way as the VCDL on Second Amendment rights. He also noted that many in the Democratic Party establishment have worked hard to purge pro-gun Democrats from their elected positions.
Most importantly, gun control isn’t about safety, or saving kids–it’s about control. Van Cleave said that there are many other issues where the Democrats and Republicans can differentiate themselves to the electorate; the Second Amendment shouldn’t be one of them. On some things, we should stand together.
“This is our heritage,” he said. The Democratic Party should back away from gun control. Earlier that day, Van Cleave also mentioned that three Democrats–State Sens. John Edwards, Lynwood Lewis, and Chap Petersen–had signed onto SB 610, which would honor a concealed carry permit holder from any state as long as the person is at least 21 years of age. This total recognition piece of legislation is going to be vetoed by McAuliffe, but standing firm with these three pro-gun Democrats in the state senate is key to building support for an override.
Republicans just need two-thirds majority in both chambers to override. Those three Democrats in the Senate are key to fixing the concealed carry fiasco created by Herring.