Fearing a repeat of the deadly violence that engulfed Charlottesville, Va., more than two years ago, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is declaring a temporary emergency Wednesday banning all weapons, including guns, from Capitol Square in Richmond ahead of a massive rally planned next week over gun rights, the Associated Press reports. Northam plans to announce the decision because of credible threats of potential violence and extremism, one official said. Democratic leaders already acted to ban guns inside the Capitol and a legislative office building. That ban did not include Capitol grounds, which are under the governor’s control and are where a large number of gun-rights advocates are expected to rally Monday.
One official said Northam decided to ban all guns from the grounds of Capitol Square after receiving reports about inflammatory online postings by out-of-state pro-gun and militia groups who are promising to attend Monday’s rally. The official cited one post that included a photo of an AR-15 with a caption that said there are “great sight angles from certain buildings” near Capitol Square. Virginia law enforcement officials have been criticized for their planning and response to a deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville that involved heavily armed protesters, and left one woman killed and several injured when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters. Northam’s declaration will also ban items like helmets and shields, which some white nationalists carried in Charlottesville. Gun laws have become a dominant issue this legislative session and there’s been a heavy police presence at the Capitol, where Democrats—in full control of the Virginia statehouse for the first time in a generation—are set to pass a number of gun-control restrictions, including limiting handgun purchases to once a month and universal background checks on gun purchases.