Incoming Va. House speaker says Democrats are considering a Capitol gun ban for 2020 session

By: - December 19, 2019 5:53 pm

Many rally attendees carried guns, which are allowed on Capitol Square and within the Capitol building itself with a concealed carry permit. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Gun-rights advocates are planning what they hope will be a historic rally at the Virginia Capitol next month. But they may have to leave their guns at home.

Incoming House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn confirmed Thursday that Democrats have discussed the possibility of banning guns on Capitol Square through the rules resolutions that will be one of the first orders of business when new Democratic majorities convene in Richmond.

“That’s definitely something that we have discussed amongst us,” Filler-Corn said in an interview. “But we’re not willing to say what direction we’re going in.”

A no-guns rule could be significant for the crowds expected to fill the Capitol as Democrats take up numerous gun-control proposals, including universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and a red flag law. In an email to its members this week, the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League said several militia groups from Virginia and nearby states had “graciously volunteered to provide security.”

“With a large Capitol, Richmond and State Police presence, not to mention enough citizens armed with handguns to take over a modern mid-sized country,  we have the security base covered nicely,” the VCDL email read. “That said, we welcome our militia brothers and sisters to be part of making the day a success!”

VCDL also urged supporters not to bring long guns to the event, calling them a “distraction” from the group’s gun-rights message. “VCDL’s important messages inevitably get lost as the press rushes to get pictures of anyone carrying an AR or AK,” the group wrote. “The stories then become about the rifle, not VCDL’s agenda. … Long guns are not easy to carry in a crowd, either.”

Though guns are banned in most state government buildings, Republican General Assembly leaders have allowed guns to be carried in the Capitol building and on the grounds of Capitol Square. Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, has introduced a bill to ban guns and other weapons on Capitol Square. But because most legislation doesn’t go into effect until July 1, his proposed ban wouldn’t apply to the upcoming session even if it was passed and signed swiftly by the governor.

In an interview last month, Ebbin suggested an immediate ban could be enacted through the General Assembly’s rules.

During a special session on guns over the summer, some pro-gun demonstrators showed up wearing military garb and carrying rifles. After other attendees noted the display made them feel unsafe, Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion saying that armed men purporting to fulfill law enforcement functions could potentially be violating state law.

The new legislative session will begin Jan. 8.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.