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City Council Votes Richmond Protesters Cannot Carry Firearms

protester with gun
Thousands of Second Amendment supporters, many openly carrying rifles, rallied near Capitol Square on January 20. (Roberto Roldan/VPM News)

Richmond City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban people from carrying firearms during public events in public areas.

A spokesperson for Mayor Levar Stoney said the ban is effective immediately, and violators could face a class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $2,500 dollars.

Stoney proposed the ban last month. It will prohibit carrying guns on public sidewalks, roads and parks during public events. In recent months, some Black Lives Matter activists have carried firearms while protesting.

The ban applies to public events that are permitted by local officials, as well as those that “should have been permitted.” Before voting, City Council members questioned the enforceability of the ban. 

“What we’ve seen is: you have flyers that are posted to meet up in a specific place, and then without any notice, not even the people that show up at these events know what direction they’re going in,” Councilwoman Kim Gray said. “So I don’t know how you would post signage prior to it.”

While the ordinance requires Richmond police to put up signs in an area to give notice of a gun ban ahead of time, an RPD spokesman told City Council that the ban would be enforceable beyond a public event’s point or origin, as long as it continues to be considered a “public assembly” under Virginia Code.

Some anti-racism protesters say the ban could make them less safe, and it could give police a reason to target them. Gun rights groups have also scrutinized the ordinance, calling it “an attack on peaceful gun owners.”

While discussing the ordinance, Councilman Chris Hilbert tried to turn the conversation away from Second Amendment concerns, and toward protecting the First Amendment.

“You are abridging the freedom of speech when you are standing next to an event where people are exercising their First Amendment rights, and you are intimidating them from exercising that First Amendment right,” Hilbert said.

Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith also spoke in front of City Council in favor of the mayor’s ordinance. He called Richmond a "hot bed" and said the gun ban will prevent political groups from "squaring off" on the streets.

All of four public speakers asked City Council to oppose the ordinance during the special meeting.

Editor's Note: A second paragraph detailing legal consequences was added to this story after publication.