Second Amendment

Gun Rights Groups Sue Over Virginia Governor's 'Emergency' Ban

The governor fears a gun-rights rally might turn violent; a judge refuses to stop him from barring weapons from the demonstration.

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has issued an emergency executive order barring the bearing of arms in the area where a gun rights rally is scheduled for Monday. The state's Democratic-controlled legislature is pushing a series of bills restricting gun owners' rights; among other things, the proposed laws would expand background checks for private gun sales, give localities the power to bar guns from public events, and restrict gun purchases to one a month. The rally—part of a larger "Lobby Day" in which interest groups gather to communicate with the state government—is intended to protest the proposals.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, Gun Owners of America, and various citizen plaintiffs sued yesterday to prevent the enforcement of this order.

The suit, which notes that open carry has occurred without incident at past Lobby Day events, argues that the order violates marchers' right to bear arms and right to peaceably assemble. Since carrying weapons has a specific expressive political purpose when one is lobbying against gun laws, the suit also argues that the order violates the First Amendment. And it points to a 2012 Virginia law meant "specifically to prevent and prohibit the governor from in any way limiting or prohibiting the possession of carrying of firearms pursuant to a declaration of a state of emergency."

That last law includes an exception for orders necessary "to ensure public safety in any place or facility designated or used by the Governor" as an "emergency shelter" which the governor claimed he was doing in his order.** You might expect Judge Joi Taylor of Richmond Circuit Court to have cited that when she rejected the request for an injunction against the ban. Instead, she simply ignored the fact that Virginia has a law specifically designed to prevent an emergency order from doing what this emergency order does. She merely asserts, without arguing specifically why, that in her judgment that 2012 law grants the governor "sufficient deference" to ignore its language about prohibiting firearm possession in a state of emergency.

As the Baltimore Sun reports, Taylor also "cited rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts that found the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not unlimited. Because of that, she wrote, the gun-rights groups would not 'suffer an irreparable harm' sufficient to justify the injunction."

Northam is using the arrest of three people who were allegedly planning violence at the rally as evidence that his order will prevent violence. For its part, the Virginia Citizens Defense League is claiming that Democrats "want to portray this peaceful assembly of law-abiding gun owners in the worst possible way. They would love for it to degenerate to 'violence, rioting, and insurrection' in order to smear gun owners. Has the Democrat leadership actually invited violent groups to attend for the purpose of disrupting our peaceful assembly?"

The plaintiffs have appealed their case to the state's Supreme Court.

UPDATE: As of this afternoon, the state Supreme Court also denied the request for an injunction against Northam. Their two-page decision didn't take on the merits of the arguments, merely concluding that granting injunctions is an "extraordinary remedy" and that "the record before the Court is scant" and they are thus "unable to discern whether the circuit court abused its discretions" in the original denial. "The only information we have on which to resolve the weighty issues raised by the parties are pleadings accompanied by cursory attachments. Accordingly, the petition is refused."

**The italicized phrase was not included in the initial posting of this story