Police and citizens braced for violence as pro-gun activists streamed in from across the US to join the demonstration. Many were protesting a proposed set of reforms to limit firearm ownership in the state.
While state authorities braced for potential violence, thousands of American pro-gun activists, militia members and white supremacists descended on Virginia's capitol building on Monday to protest proposed restrictions on gun ownership.
Many of the activists, clad in camouflage and waving flags with messages of support for US President Donald Trump, arrived several hours before the gathering's official start.
Masses of protesters chanted "We will not disarm," in unison, while other attendees wore stickers saying "Guns save lives" and displayed pistols and rifles in the streets.
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The rally saw a heavy police presence, with both uniformed and plainclothes officers. Those wanting to enter the rally grounds at Virginia's Capitol Square had to pass through a single security screening and leave their guns outside.
The gathering which was organized on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a holiday marking the legacy of the African-American civil rights leader, also fell on Virginia's "Lobby Day," an annual event which allows citizens to meet with state legislators.
Touting the Second Amendment
Activists gathered from across the United States to argue that their constitutional rights were being infringed upon by a proposed package of eight bills to change Virginia state firearms laws, including a bill to limit handgun purchases to one per month, a law to require background checks on all firearms purchases and transfers, bans on guns from certain events and public spaces, and a ban on assault rifles.
Opponents of the proposed measures argue that Democrat-led Virginia is infringing on their rights, while those who arrived from outside of the state fear that if the proposed measures are accepted, they could set a precedent for other states to limit firearm ownership.
DW's correspondent Oliver Sallet tweeted that another core pro-gun argument is that guns save lives by acting as deterrents to violence.
Trump also weighed in ahead of Monday's rally, tweeting on Friday, "Your 2nd amendment is under attack ... They will take your guns away!"
Fears of violence
Although the activists said they wanted to carry out a peaceful protest, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a temporary state of emergency in the days leading up to the rally, issuing a ban on all weapons, including guns from the gathering at Capitol Square. Virginia governor cited "credible, serious threats" of violence as the reason for the state of emergency.
Meanwhile, Virginia Delegate Lee Carter said he would spend Monday in an "undisclosed location" after receiving threats from pro-gun activists.
"I ain't interested in martyrdom," he tweeted.
While the pro-gun rally takes place every year, it drew considerable attention this year following the arrest of three members of a small neo-Nazi group, who authorities said hoped to start a race war through violence at the gathering.
The arrest ignited fears that the event could turn out similarly to the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, fatally injuring 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. However, Monday's gathering ended peacefully.
The rally, organized by the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League, has in past years only drawn a few hundred firearms enthusiasts who gather to listen to speeches made by a few Republican lawmakers.
lc/ng (Reuters, AP, dpa)