Just twelve days downstream from the the melee at the U.S. Capitol, tensions were maxed out as Virginia’s highest-profile citizen militia strode to the western boundary of the statehouse grounds in Richmond, rifles slung across their chest rigs.
And then….nothing happened.
There was, of course, plenty of press clamor around the group as part of yesterday’s Virginia Citizens Defense League Lobby Day event in Richmond, and the media jockeyed for pictures and soundbites.
However, no clash with Richmond police took place. No confrontation with Virginia State Troopers.
In a battle of wills with anti-gun politicians Monday, Mike Dunn and his Last Sons of Liberty militia had called the gun-haters’ bluff…and won. Murky threats that they would be disarmed and arrested for openly carrying their long guns and sidearms didn’t happen.
The Virginia militia’s march to the statehouse grounds followed a week of social media posts that converged into one forecast: the squad would certainly be in handcuffs on VCDL Lobby Day for defying a puzzling new law. The regulation in question purports to create pop-up gun-free zones, seemingly wherever anti-gun politicians want them.
However, the language of the law makes it unclear who or what triggers temporary gun bans for the city of Richmond or many other incorporated Virginia cities that have also adopted the oddly constructed ordinance.
For their part, Richmond Police cobbled together a tortured explanation for pop-up gun-free zones to satisfy some favored outlets quizzing them about it.
They said that a temporary gun ban can evolve one of two ways: when actual people step up to host an event so as to earn a temporary gun-free zone for their art or food festival, or, when city officials and police think someone should have stepped up to be a host.
Wait….what? Confused? Is it possible that pop-up gun bans in Richmond and elsewhere would come at the behest of a “ghost host” or even an Imaginary Friend of a city official? Who is the “should” party in those circumstances?
Don’t laugh. The quirky loophole in the law is real.
From the point of view of militia leader Mike Dunn, a marine veteran, resistance to a crude ploy to strip a Second Amendment freedom could not be sidestepped. With city and state law enforcement close enough to hear them on Monday, Dunn declared to the assembled media:
“We will not comply. We are here to break the unconstitutional city ordinance and defy it.”
“We are the young men of this country, that love our country, that love freedom. We hate tyranny, whether that be Trump or Biden. We support the Constitution.”
In a Twitter message put up this past week, the Richmond Police Department comically weighed in with a quick social media pop to try to explain a temporary gun ban at the Capitol for Monday.
In reference to city ordinance banning firearms at gatherings where posted, firearms are banned at permitted events/events that would require a permit. Gatherings that would require a permit are groups of 11+ people obstructing pedestrian/vehicular traffic in vicinity of signs pic.twitter.com/s4wCPDkoMH
— Richmond Police (@RichmondPolice) January 18, 2021
So, was it possible to get beyond the Twitter Show & Tell describing pop-up gun bans to get more substantive answers from city leadership? It was time for TTAG to call the RPD spokespeople directly.
Over the course of several days leading up to Monday’s militia and armed citizen caravan and walkabout, repeated calls were made to the Richmond Police Department’s “media office” asking them to take yet another shot at explaining how these pop-up gun-free-zones are born.
All calls went to voice mail and no calls were returned.
Apparently, it was because the Richmond Police were too busy blockading the city’s main thoroughfares at the very moment that gun rights caravans—organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League—were streaming toward the statehouse for Monday’s Lobby Day event.
Hundreds of buses, cars and trucks had been decked out with gun rights messages, flags and banners for the occasion. VCDL organizers decided it was the optimum way to bring their “Guns Saves Lives” message to Richmond in the era of Covid-19.
In the run-up to Lobby Day, city of Richmond officials had designated only a few streets bordering the statehouse complex to be off-limits to vehicles. So, it was only natural then for VCDL caravan navigators to plan to motor down Richmond’s Broad Street corridor for maximum visibility. Broad Street is to Richmond, as Pennsylvania Ave is to Washington, DC.
But at noon on Monday, just as the first VCDL caravan approached the city, Richmond’s Chief of Police suddenly ordered Broad Street shut down for the 14 blocks near the statehouse. The reason given through subordinates was that a shooting incident at a service station far away from the Capitol complex “jeopardized Richmond public safety.” Allegedly.
In all, 28 square blocks of downtown Richmond was deemed off-limits to all traffic Monday afternoon, including, most prominently, four long VCDL gun rights caravans. What a coincidence.
Of course, against all odds, Richmond politicians had managed to put 2 + 2 together Caravans circulating in the area of the statehouse would be dropping off significant numbers of armed “tourists,” a development that was sure to drive even more media coverage of the VCDL’s “Guns Saves Lives” message of the day.
Those armed tourists would be more than happy to join up with the militia member who stood their ground against a “pop-up” gun ban earlier in the day. Of course, it didn’t happen.
However disappointed VCDL caravaners were at being detoured into distant corners of Richmond, VCDL leaders shrugged their shoulders and looked at the bright side, noting that the caravans’ mission was always to be in front of regular folks wherever they could be found. So VCDL leaders decided to declare victory over gun hate for the day, as their member vehicles made their final laps on any streets that they could find open in metro Richmond.
At the end of the day, a big hat tip was earned by Mike Dunn and his Last Sons of Liberty group for ignoring the (not so) veiled threats of arrest on a day that an unknown “ghost host” signed an imaginary “event permit,” hoping to trigger a Monday “gun-free zone” around the statehouse.
Dunn and his crew didn’t fall for it.
They challenged the city to arrest them on the basis of a nebulous, flawed gun ban regulation and in the end, the gun haters blinked. It was nothing less than the ultimate principled stand for freedom in the face of those who fear it most.