RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Free speech, on full display today at the Capitol, where gun owners brought their weapons and their message to state leaders. Gun control arguments gained momentum this month following the deadly shootings in Tucson, Arizona, but the pro-gun side is ready to protect their rights.
In one direction, there's a pink-handled glock. In another, there's a shiny AR-15 semi-automatic pistol. All of them, currently legal on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol, but under a proposed bill, that right could be taken away.
"I think to take away that right is a slap in the face to all law abiding citizens of Virginia," said New Kent resident Donald Green.
So Green and about 300 other gun owners exercised their First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly in support of their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
"People are just misguided about guns. Guns are paperweights unless they're picked up by somebody who plans to commit a crime with it," said D.J. Dorer, a gun owner from Yorktown.
The Capitol was taken over by several groups on what's now known as "Lobby Day", an annual chance for citizens to make their points to state leaders. As chief of staff to two former governors, Bill Leighty says the rallies can have an effect.
"Usually it's marginal, but if they're very well organized and they do it right they can really persuade folks," Leighty said.
In the gun debate, emotion was on the other side, where in the very same spot just hours later, a smaller, but no less dedicated gun control group honored victims of gun violence. Lori Haas' daughter was injured in the Virginia Tech shootings.
"I still hold out hope that someday our legislators will care more about their constituents than they will care about special interests," said Haas.
About 70 people lay down in protest for three minutes, about the time it takes to purchase a gun.
Time left to change the laws: Forty days, and counting.
The pro-gun people want Virginia's gun laws to be relaxed, while the anti-gun lobby wants to close the so-called gun show loophole: the ability of people to buy guns from unlicensed dealers without passing a background check.
There are several other gun-related bills being proposed in this year's General Assembly session. Lawmakers say it's too early to know how many will come up for a vote. The General Assembly is in session until the end of February.
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