Wednesday, this column published the text of the speech I delivered at the General Assembly in Richmond on Monday for Lobby Day. Now that a video has been released, it’s embedded above. I’d been invited by Virginia Citizens Defense League, which participates every year to promote bills that advance the right to keep and bear arms, and oppose those that restrict it. What follow is are experiences and impression from the trip.
After a drive that started in Ohio at 9:30 that morning, and took eight-hours over unfamiliar highways and connections, I arrived at the hotel in late afternoon. There was just enough time to check in, unpack, and plot the course to the VCDL pre-Lobby Day dinner meeting at a downtown hotel. Taking surface streets, I promptly got introduced to Richmond road patterns. Being prevented from making right or left turns at intersections throughout the town would thwart me throughout the trip, but there was one familiar traffic truism—jaywalkers everywhere do so with the same sense of entitlement.
That meeting was my first real introduction to the inner workings of VCDL, and it was impressive. I’ve participated in lots of grassroots activities before, and have to say the organization, focus and openness were all impressive. President Philip Van Cleave and other officers were knowledgeable and patient explaining what Lobby Day was about and how the day would be organized, with lists and summaries of “good” and “bad” bills, and a time-tested tactic of breaking activists into teams to make sure coverage with legislators would be comprehensive and unified in message.
I finished the day going back to my hotel, taking advantage of relatively mild weather to get comfortable on the room’s balcony with a good cigar. Later that evening it was time to call in to Armed American Radio and give a report on what was happening in Richmond.
On Monday, I made it to the General Assembly building at around 10 a.m. The weather was as perfect as one could hope for this time of year, sunny and warming into the 50s. VCDL teams had already been busy meeting with legislators since 8:30, and the rally with speakers was scheduled to start at 11. In contrast to the hysterical reactions we saw recently in Washington State, many of the activists were armed, and those with concealed carry permits could even open carry inside the building as a matter of course and without causing a massive freak-out. This year though, police were not allowing continuation of the tradition of speaking from the steps of the Old Bell Tower (legend item 40 on the Capitol site plan), reportedly on orders from the governor’s office as a way to express disapproval. In fact, any speaker’s stand over four inches in height was to be disallowed without a building permit of some sort, leaving the only option a small plywood platform you can see in the photo accompanying the above-linked speech transcript. We were curious to see if the same restrictions would be placed on the antis when they held their scheduled event later that afternoon.
Subjectively speaking, the speech itself went OK — there were a couple places where I had to struggle to stay on track and find my place in the text, and there was one outright goof: When talking about a “monopoly of violence,” I couldn’t for the life of me recall the name the “Coalition to Stop Gun Violence,” and it came out “Violence Policy Center.”
There were several hundred people there, and the crowd was receptive and attentive. Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America, who was one of the expected speakers, unfortunately could not attend. That was a disappointment, because not only does he always have something to say that’s interesting and important, but he’s just a really neat guy to be around and talk with. I did get a chance to finally meet the other speaker, journalist and author Emily Miller, chief investigative reporter for Fox 5 DC, who has done such great work exposing the way the District government wages a calculated harassment campaign against gun owners exercising the right to keep and bear arms.
Everyone has read her book, “Emily Gets Her Gun,” right? If not, you really need to go rectify that oversight. The lady is knowledgeable, has a writing style that keeps you engaged, which is no small task when the subject matter involves maddening bureaucracy, and just seems very down-to-earth and nice.
Miller’s speech also precipitated my only major disappointment of the day, because I didn’t get to hear it and needed to wait for the video to come out (and here it is). That’s because after speaking first, people came up to talk to me, including a reporter for The Virginia Pilot. After answering a few questions, I then put a few to the reporter.
After confirming she was also going to cover the Virginians for Responsible Gun Laws demonstration, the reporter was informed I could find no record of the group on the nonprofit reporting website Guidestar, it did not appear to be registered with the Virginia Secretary of State, and its website was registered through a proxy. She admitted identifying the party financing a group trying to change laws is something in the public’s interest to know, regardless of where one stands on any issue. Whether she follows up on that remains to be seen, but such an inquiry apparently has not made it into any of the news accounts to date.
One quick aside, while talking with people there, one guy approached whom I’ve met before on a few occasions and always enjoy seeing again – Dick Heller, of the landmark Supreme Court Second Amendment decision fame. He wanted to “borrow” some of the terminology from the speech, and so i gave him my printed copy, complete with last-minute handwritten revisions.
As VCDL had a board meeting later in the afternoon, and as I wanted to check out the anti-rally we were expecting to begin at 2 p.m., a bunch of us went to lunch, including Van Cleave and attorney John Pierce of OpenCarry.org, among others. Afterward, walking back with my friend and WarOnGuns Correspondent “Mack H,” we saw the General Assembly property blocked with yellow police tape, and State Police officers keeping people from entering the grounds.
It seems someone reported a “suspicious package,” and that meant the VRGL folks had to move several blocks away. I decided at that point it would be better to retrieve the car, which was several blocks down the hill in the opposite direction, and after doing so, saw the tape line had been extended another block outward. With that development, the prospect of an all too rare obligation-free afternoon became too attractive to pass up. Surprisingly, as discovered on the way back to the hotel, in Virginia, they evidently even card geezers to buy beer — I hadn’t had that happen in many moons. Then it was time to take advantage of a sunny afternoon, my room balcony, and something else I love but have regrettably little time for these days, reading well-written fiction just for pleasure.
It was a very worthwhile experience, absolutely time well spent. If you’re a Virginian and you don’t belong to VCDL, you’re hurting yourself and you’re hurting volunteers who could really use your help. Not only do they stand guard protecting and advancing all of our rights, but there are some great individuals I’d happily welcome more opportunities to learn from, to work with, and just to hang around with.