- Video report by ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore
Thousands of gun rights activists from around the US have rallied peacefully in Virginia, protesting against plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun control legislation.
The size of the rally in Richmond and the expected participation of white supremacists and fringe militia groups raised fears that the state could see a repeat of the violence that exploded in 2017 in Charlottesville.
But the rally concluded uneventfully and the mood was largely festive as attendees — many carrying military-style rifles — spilled into the streets, chanting “USA” and waving signs denouncing Democratic governor Ralph Northam.
Authorities said there had been no reports of arrests or injuries.
One campaigner told ITV News she was there in support of gun rights as she believed being armed was important for woman as a defence against male violence.
"As someone who works in the social services field, I deal with women on a regular basis who are marginalised, who are abused and experience domestic violence and to me, on a personal level, having a weapon makes you an equal to someone who's bigger than you and might be stronger than you.
"I've had personal experience of with that as well.
"My mother was in an abusive relationship when I was a child and I know that had she had something like that maybe she wouldn't have been hurt like she was.
"We have to make sure we protect ourselves personally and protect ourselves constitutionally."
Another said he was there as an "average guy" who "didn't want the government to take away my God given right to protect myself."
Campaigners had come from neighbouring states, one telling ITV News it was "their civic duty" to attend the rally.
Despite the large turn out, Democratic legislators said the rally would not affect their plans to pass gun control measures, including universal background checks and a limit of one handgun purchase a month.
“I was prepared to see a whole lot more people show up than actually did and I think it’s an indication that a lot of this rhetoric is bluster, quite frankly,” said Chris Hurst, a gun-control advocate in the Virginia House of Delegates, whose TV journalist girlfriend was killed in an on-air shooting in 2015.
Many of the protesters wore camouflage.
Some waved flags with messages of support for Donald Trump.
The President in turn tweeted support for their goals.
“The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights,” he tweeted. “This is just the beginning. Don’t let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020!”
Virginia State Police, Virginia Capitol Police and Richmond Police had a heavy presence, with officers on rooftops and others patrolling in cars and on bicycles.
Authorities were looking to avoid a repeat of the violence that erupted in Charlottesville during one of the largest gatherings of white supremacists and other far-right groups in a decade.
Police faced scathing criticism for what both the white supremacist groups and anti-racism protesters said was a passive response.