Tens of thousands of US armed gun rights activists have rallied in Richmond, Virginia to protest gun control bills making their way through the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
Chanting "USA! USA! USA!" and praising President Donald Trump, the protesters, armed with handguns and rifles around, flooded the streets around Virginia State Capitol.
There were fears of violence ahead of the rally as reports had said white supremacists, armed militia groups and other extremists planned to attend the rally, which was organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
The rally came amid tight security after Governor Ralph Northam banned carrying weapons onto the capitol grounds, and the FBI last week arrested three neo-Nazis, saying they intended to use the event to spark a race war.
Last week, the newly Democratic-controlled state Senate approved a package of gun control bills that the House of Delegates could approve as early as this week. The measures limit purchases of handguns to one each month; require that gun buyers submit to background checks; and allow local governments to ban guns in parks and public buildings, according to US media.
President Trump has drawn attention to Virginia’s guns debate in recent days, claiming that state Democrats were threatening Americans’ right to bear arms. On Monday, urged the people to vote Republican. “I will NEVER allow our great Second Amendment to go unprotected,” he tweeted, “not even a little bit!”. Trump had lost Virginia in the 2016 presidential election.
Anti-gun activists said gun extremists in Virginia's rally sought to intimidate lawmakers out of doing what voters elected them to do.
Virginia’s gun rally came on the day that separate shootings across the United States claimed the lives of at least six people, including two police officers.
in December, a database complied by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University showed that 2019 saw the highest number of mass killings on record, with 41 incidents claiming 211 lives.
Last year, Amnesty International warned that the gun violence situation in the US has grown into a full blown "human rights crisis" and the administration of President Donald Trump was doing little to solve it.
In a scathing report, the rights group warned that “all aspects of American life have been compromised in some way by the unfettered access to guns, with no attempts at meaningful national regulation.”
The issue of gun violence has become all the more polarizing under Trump, whose presidential campaign was funded partially by the National Rifle Association (NRA), an influential gun lobby in the US.