RICHMOND, Va. (NewsNation Now) — Gun rights activists will converge on the Virginia Capitol for an annual demonstration Monday, almost two weeks after the siege of the U.S. Capitol and two days before the presidential inauguration.
With threats of possible armed demonstrations looming ahead of Inauguration Day, Richmond officials stepped up security for Lobby Day. The Capitol Square grounds are closed through Thursday, and authorities are reminding people to leave their guns at home if they plan to protest outside the statehouse, NewsNation affiliates WRIC and WAVY reported.
Firearms are prohibited at permitted events and events that would otherwise require a permit, as well as in adjacent public areas.
The FBI had warned of potential armed protests at all 50 state capitols and in Washington, D.C. in the days leading up to the presidential transition, but the weekend was relatively peaceful. A Connecticut woman was arrested at an inauguration security checkpoint in D.C. Saturday for impersonating a law enforcement officer, after arresting a Virginia man for trying to get through a checkpoint armed with a gun, ammunition and fake credentials.
Heightened security measures remain in place across the country to safeguard seats of government from the type of violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when a mob supporting President Donald Trump swarmed the building while Congress was certifying the Electoral College vote.
Virginians traditionally petition their lawmakers on Lobby Day at the start of the state’s General Assembly session, with the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League taking a leading role in recent years. It always falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday honoring the civil rights leader assassinated in 1968.
“We’re showing up to remind them that we’re still here,” a gun rights activist, who identified himself only as Trevor, told Reuters outside the Virginia statehouse on Sunday evening, walking the perimeter to help plan the protest.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League did not get a permit for the rally, so the group will have a caravan.
Philip Van Cleave, leader of the defense league, said demonstrators would come from as far away as New York and Texas. The group says it plans to petition state lawmakers to loosen gun curbs, as it has done during many Lobby Days in the past.
“We’ve been doing this for 25 years,” Van Cleave added. “We’ve never had a single problem. No arrests, nothing.”
He said he does not have any control over who shows up.
“There is no way I have control over that,” Van Cleave said. “We are staying in touch with the police. It’s their job to keep their eyes out for trouble makers. We are not police. We are not there to enforce the laws, we have no control.”
Police estimated last year’s crowd at 22,000.
Reuters, the Associated Press and NewsNation affiliates WAVY and WRIC contributed to this report.