Virginia rally a win for democracy

Virginia found the perfect balance between freedom and safety: defending both the people and their right to express themselves.

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Virginia rally a win for democracy

An attendee of the Virginia Second Amendment Rally exercises two rights guaranteed by the Constitution: gun ownership and free speech.

An attendee of the Virginia Second Amendment Rally exercises two rights guaranteed by the Constitution: gun ownership and free speech.

Anthony Crider, Flickr CC

An attendee of the Virginia Second Amendment Rally exercises two rights guaranteed by the Constitution: gun ownership and free speech.

Anthony Crider, Flickr CC

Anthony Crider, Flickr CC

An attendee of the Virginia Second Amendment Rally exercises two rights guaranteed by the Constitution: gun ownership and free speech.

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Battles for rights, whether justified or not, have long been a respected part of American culture. The country’s founding was a result of one such battle. It is celebrated, at least retroactively, when people follow this legacy and speak up for what matters to them. The Lobby Day rally for gun rights on Jan. 20 in Richmond, Virginia would have been no different, if not for one worrying aspect: of the 22,000 attendees, around 16,000 were armed.

Huge throngs of demonstrators, including members of various militias and far-right groups, gathered outside the Virginia Capitol to oppose legislation that would allow the state to restrict the Second Amendment rights of dangerous individuals. Photos posted by Business Insider show demonstrators wielding heavy weaponry, including military-grade assault rifles and a grenade launcher. However, despite Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency, there was no violence at the event, and only one arrest, according to the Capitol Police. 

Of the 22,000 attendees, around 16,000 were armed.”

Northam’s reaction was not unwarranted: he cited evidence that certain groups had “malicious plans” for the rally, and history suggests that any event where thousands of guns are present less than 100 miles from a nation’s capital needs heavy security. He had every right, as governor of Virginia, to enact the executive order that temporarily banned guns on capitol grounds. The question is not whether he overstepped his boundaries in limiting freedom of expression for the sake of stability, but whether he went far enough.

Despite Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency, there was no violence at the event, and only one arrest, according to the Capitol Police. ”

The protestors should not have come so heavily armed; Phillip Van Cleave, the president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which organized the rally, said as much in an article for AmmoLand, recommending that protestors bring handguns instead of long guns. He argued that doing otherwise would send the wrong message about the protest and its intentions. But as threatening to democracy as the event was, banning it would have been worse.

It is essential that protesters can exercise the rights they are fighting to protect.”

Had Northam decided to ban guns at the rally, he would have reduced the risk of violence, but at the cost of standing in the face of civil rights and the Constitution. It is essential that protesters can exercise the rights they are fighting to protect. It is a good sign for the state of American democracy that people were able to do so peacefully. Virginia found the perfect balance between freedom and safety: defending both the people and their right to express themselves. No protest can be successful if it does not shake things up, for without causing a certain amount of disruption, it does not attract enough attention to spark meaningful discourse and bring unheard opinions into the spotlight. Protests can strengthen democracy, but only if the people involved take care not to weaken it.