Gun Rights, Kind Of
Update: The rally has drawn to a close and there were guns, passionate speeches, protests, and no violence. The media coverage portraying the number of alt-right and white supremacists groups is proving to have been overblown and unfair. Count today as a victory for the constitutional order, freedom of ideas, and the right to peaceably assemble.
Gun rights activists and second amendment groups are gathering in Richmond, Virginia to protest new gun control legislation. The state laws would put limits on how many guns people could buy each month, require mandatory background checks, and enforce red flag laws. The President tweeted his support for the rally, saying, “Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away. Republicans will win Virginia in 2020. Thank you Dems!” As the crowds are gathering, it's clear that there are competing interests driving the rally. On one hand, there will be very legitimate protests over the proposed gun legislation. But the event has grown into much more than a protest of new gun laws.
Governor Ralph Northam has declared a state of emergency in the state capital and banned weapons on capital grounds, citing extreme rhetoric, threats of violence, and the example of Charlottesville as a cautionary comparison for the event. White Supremacist groups and other hate groups are expected to gather for the protest, as are Antifa and other far left counter protest groups. The FBI has already arrested members of a neo-Nazi group who threatened violence at the rally.
Every group has the constitutional right to peaceably assemble and protest, and if that’s all that happens this week, it will mark a refreshing return to civility in our nation. However, violent counter protests have become the norm, along with rioting, destruction of property, hate speech, slander, and in some cases domestic terror attacks.
If significant violence breaks out at the protests between groups, it will raise three important questions for American civil dialogue. First, how should we define domestic terrorism? Some of the riots involving far right white supremacists and Antifa over the last five years fall into that category. Freedom to believe whatever you want is a fundamental tenet of the American system, assumed in the rights to assemble, the right of free speech, and the right to a free press. But there are always limits to acting on ideas. Rather than policing ideologies, we should expect law enforcement to police violent behavior, libel and slander, and other illegal activity.
Second, what role does the media play in these rallies? The coverage for the 2nd Amendment rally has been overwhelmingly negative, focusing on the radical activists, the threats of violence, and fringe ideological groups. There's some accuracy to that reporting, but it's far from the whole story. Contrast this with the coverage of two other prominent rallies.
Two years ago the women’s march was a national story. Women from cities across the world gathered to raise awareness for various causes, but the media covered the very best of the causes, presented a united front, and trumpeted their own agenda. This included late-term abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, intersectionality, and radical feminism. In the time since, it has become clear that the women’s march was less about women and more about causes on the far left. The founders have divided and moved on to other opportunities. The 2020 march took place this weekend. Few attended, even fewer paid attention.
The March for Life will also take place this weekend. The media has typically avoided covering the event, despite the thousands of attendees and the high-profile speakers. Media outlets are typically pro-choice and do not support the rally; so they don’t report it. What would have happened in Virginia if they had chosen a similar approach?
Third, what is this rally really about? This rally is shaping up to be the far right version of the Women’s March. Gun rights and women’s rights have been used as banners to legitimize extreme causes and ideologies. Not every woman has to support Planned Parenthood and late stage abortion. Not every gun owner has to support the recreational use of assault rifles and white supremacy. No outcome in Virginia will be good for race relations in the country. What began, in name, as a rally for gun rights, looks like it will be an intermingling of groups with ties to racist and white supremacist ideologies and groups who want to stand up for their second amendment rights.
We can be certain that the protest in Virginia will not advance the important conversation about gun rights in America, and neither will it provide the kind of nuanced and principled opposition to the legislation that the organizers may have desired. It will push those on the extremes even further into their positions and deepen the country’s wounds and divisions over race, violence, and gun ownership. Let’s hope and pray for peaceful assembly, against inflammatory coverage, and with those who want solutions to the hatred and violence gripping our nation.
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.