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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Activists shoot themselves in the foot

Brandon Lewis, of Bergen, New York, carries a

Brandon Lewis, of Bergen, New York, carries a .50-caliber rifle at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Virginia, on Monday. Credit: For The Washington Post/Julia Rendleman

If there is a better way to ignite support for draconian gun restrictions than having thousands of heavily armed pro-gun activists march and scream and wave signs plastered with creepy slogans, I can't imagine it.

Monday in Richmond, 22,000 demonstrators rallied to fight proposed gun regulations in Virginia, defeated for years, that are now likely to pass because Democrats won majorities in both the state Senate and the House of Delegates in November. Three bills supported by Gov. Ralph Northam that passed the state Senate last week and will now go before the House of Delegates would:

  • Limit handgun purchases to one per month, to stem the flow of guns bought legally for the purpose of reselling them illegally
  • Require universal background checks on all sales
  • Allow localities to ban guns in some public areas

Lawmakers also are considering a "red flag" law that would let guns be temporarily taken from owners deemed a threat and a legal requirement to report lost or stolen firearms, tougher penalties for leaving loaded, unsecured guns within the reach of children.

I support the right of Americans to bear arms. And I support it not just for target shooting or hunting or defense against home invasion, but because Americans have the right to be armed against the fact that any government may turn tyrannical, and such a turn is more likely if the government has all the guns. And to anyone who asks "What good would rifles and handguns in the hands of ragtag citizens do against a government's devastating weaponry?" I suggest they look to the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and the American Revolution.

But the bills under consideration in Virginia are generally fair, sane, and supported by a majority of Americans. Letting people who can't pass background checks or have begun to act dangerously carry guns is an infringement on the right of Americans to live in safety that outweighs those people's right to carry. The ability to buy more than one gun per month fuels the black market while providing no crucial liberty. And cities should be able to ban guns in places where the public gathers en masse.

Some gun-rights advocates disagree, which is their right. The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group, planned a rally for Monday, and that's fine. But then extremists from the across the nation began planning to show up, bristling with weaponry. Three men who belong to the violent neo-Nazi group The Base reportedly planned to attend the rally. They discussed opening fire there were arrested for conspiracy to commit murder, and three Maryland members were arrested on federal firearm charges . Northam declared a state of emergency to bar weapons near the Capitol building. And on Monday, the rally essentially split into 6,000 unarmed people at the Capitol and 16,000 more, many of them heavily armed, massed together nearby.

The slogans on attendees' signs included "Down With The Deep State," "Fuhrer Ralph," "All Gun Control Is Racist" and a military-style rifle above the slogan "Come and Take It." The weapons they carried included shotguns, rifles, handguns and more exotic guns, like a .50 caliber sniper rifle. And many armed attendees were decked out in full battle gear.

The rally was peaceful, thankfully. But it was also counterproductive because the manner protesters effected and their opposition to reasonable gun restrictions endanger the right to own guns, by making gun owners look scarily militaristic and paranoid. I've often argued that legal gun owners are among the least dangerous people in our society. These folks didn't help my argument.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.