Thousands of pro-gun activists, including armed militia members, are planning to gather for a rally Monday in the capital of the southeastern U.S. state of Virginia in opposition to proposed new gun control regulations.
Security has been increased around the state Capitol site.
Democratic lawmakers, who recently gained control of both houses of the state legislature, have made passing tougher gun control laws a central focus.
The Virginia Senate approved legislation late Thursday requiring background checks on all firearm sales and limiting handgun purchases to one a month. The senate also passed a bill to restore the rights of local governments to ban weapons from public buildings and other venues.
Neo-Nazi, militia and other gun-rights groups have promised to gather en masse for Monday’s rally, which is organized annually by the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
The planned demonstration brings back memories of a violent white supremacist rally in nearby Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, when one woman was killed and more than 30 other people injured as a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Amid threats of violence and a possible heavy turnout, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, declared a temporary state of emergency that bans all weapons from Richmond’s Capitol Square during Monday’s rally to prevent "armed militia groups (from) storming our capitol."
Gun-rights groups, which contend the constitution guarantees their right to own any firearm, asked the Virginia Supreme Court rule the temporary ban unconstitutional, but the court upheld the ban on Friday.
Northam said authorities have received credible threats of violence, including the threat of deployment of weaponized drones over Capitol Square.
Extremist groups have also inundated social media and the internet with threatening messages and hints of violence.
The FBI has arrested six alleged members of a white supremacist group on gun charges, partly due to concerns that the individuals planned to incite violence at the rally.
Both houses of the Virginia legislature are expected to approve even more restrictive gun control laws, including a ban on assault rifles and “red flag” laws aimed at taking guns from people who are considered a risk to their communities.
U.S. President Donald Trump had words of support late Friday for gun rights supporters in Virginia, tweeting, “That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away.”
Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away. Republicans will win Virginia in 2020. Thank you Dems!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 17, 2020
Supporters of tighter gun control laws say the restrictions would help reduce the number of people killed by guns each year.