Liberals were crestfallen and the mainstream media ate crow this week after a massive gun rights rally in Richmond failed to become the raucous, white supremacist hate-fest they hoped for.
There’s no way to call the event anything but a major victory for the gun rights movement. Some 22,000 Second Amendment supporters from around the country — many of them armed — showed up in force to demonstrate that draconian state laws like those introduced by the Virginia legislature were an affront to the entire Second Amendment rights movement.
The peaceful, well-organized event repudiated stereotypes of gun-owners and the doomsday prediction of how they would behave if thousands of them gathered to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Embarrassed and on edge from the white supremacist rally that shook Richmond in 2017, authorities had braced for the worse. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam had declared an official state of emergency before the rally even kicked off. Reports were swirling around the internet and on leftist websites that armed, racist groups were planning to force a violent outcome.
NBC news reporter Ted Collins tweeted a warning for fellow journalists to “be careful and not be fooled by disinformation that white, right-wing groups planned to push.” His station filed doom and gloom reports in advance of the rally warning of right-wing violence.
No one disputes that America is facing a major crisis of mass shootings in schools, workplaces and businesses by deranged people with assault rifles. But too many gun control opponents want to paint passionate gun owners as violent loons, zealots and stooges from the boonies who think camouflage is a color. Linking racism and xenophobia to Second Amendment supporters has always been part of their script to claim the moral authority behind gun bans.
Remember Barack Obama’s comments about “bitter” small-town Americans? “They cling to their guns and religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations,” Obama said during the 2008 presidential campaign. No one will forget how Hillary Clinton categorized Trump supporters — who overwhelmingly support gun rights — as being either racists, homophobes or from a “basket of deplorables” during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Coupled with the power of the anti-gun mainstream media, gun control activists always control the narrative. Coverage of the Second Amendment rights debate only occurs after tragic shootings, when shock and raw emotions govern people’s thoughts. Often, the shooter is a mentally ill white male dressed in camouflage. That’s the image society has come to associate with gun violence.
And that’s why the peaceful march in Richmond was so important.
Numbers Should Matter
Gun-rights supporters do not dispute that something must be done about the crisis of mass shootings. But in an environment where perception becomes reality, perceived solutions can be oversimplified and misguided.
Lots of credible research belies this image of murderous white males going on rampages with legally obtained firearms. These studies are rarely reported by mainstream media, even though they form a much more realistic basis for gun control debates.
The truth is that, as tragic and shocking as mass shootings are, the victims account for a very, very small percentage of homicides in the U.S. Moreover, the victims and perpetrators of most homicides in the U.S. generally do not square with the typical profile of gun rights supporters like the Richmond rally attendees.
According to a report by the Crime Prevention Research Center, just 5 percent of the nation’s counties — which comprise nearly half the U.S. population — account for more than two-thirds of homicides in the country. About 70 percent of counties — accounting for 20 percent of the U.S. population — had no more than one murder, with 54 percent of counties experiencing zero murders, the report found.
Overwhelmingly, the highest numbers of homicides are concentrated in areas around major cities like Chicago and Baltimore, not in areas where legal gun owners are most concentrated.
“I just think most people have a real misunderstanding about how heavily concentrated murders are,” said John R. Lott Jr., the author of the study. “You have over half the murders in the United States taking place in 2 percent of the counties.”
Even within cities, the concentration of homicides is stark. Weisburd said that in his studies of larger cities, about 1 percent of the streets produce 25 percent of the crime and about 5 percent of the streets produce 50 percent of the crime.
“The places where we see the murders tend to be the urban areas, and even tiny areas within those areas, where legal gun ownership is itself relatively rare,” said David Weisburd, director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University.
One critical distinction in the county-by-county numbers was that gun ownership was heaviest in rural and suburban areas — the same places where there were few murders, Lott said.
What Really Happened
Rare is the moment when sweeping myths and misconceptions are dispelled by a single event. The Washington Post, which dispatched at least five staff writers to the Richmond rally in order to capture every Nazi cheer, described “a gathering that temporarily converted Virginia’s capital into the highest-profile bastion of gun rights advocacy in the country.”
The newspaper reported how protesters without firearms calmly filed through 17 metal detectors at a single entrance to the city’s Capitol Square, where about 6,000 of them cheered fiery speeches on the Second Amendment. A far larger crowd remained outside the square, where attendees could keep their weapons. Many attendees were decked out in full hunting and militia gear, sporting assault rifles and marching in unison. Shocking to some, no doubt.
As the protestors marched, they were approached by an African American man waving a giant Trump 2020 flag on a 20-foot pole. “Good afternoon young lady,” said Derrick Gibson. “We are the white supremacists, if you believe the news.” Gibson, 58, had driven down from Queens, N.Y. He, too, was at pains to point out that there was some diversity among the gun rights advocates in the primarily white crowd.
One man, attorney Joe Evans, held a sign with an old Chinese proverb in Chinese characters. It said, “Water can support a ship, and water can overturn it.” His wife, a Chinese immigrant who recently obtained her U.S. citizenship, held a sign that read: “Do I look like a white supremacist?” Evans said membership at their local gun range in Arlington, VA included Asians, African Americans, Hispanics and members of the LGBTQ community.
“Gun Rights Are Also Gay Rights” read a sign held by Brandon Brod, 44, who was raised a Quaker and still believes in pacifism — except when it comes to self-defense. He said he and his husband had been collecting guns for 20 years and were welcomed at the rally with open arms. “I’ve been feeling the love. At least 100 people have asked me for a photo, including the militia guys.”
Inside the unarmed zone stood a lone banana in the crowd of camo. William Balderson, the man inside the banana, said that he couldn’t openly carry a weapon, so he decided to bust out a banana costume.
Balderson told left-leaning VICE news that the amount of misinformation he found about the rally online was immense. “Oh, I was reading stuff on the way here, on meme pages and stuff, saying like it’s a trap and I’m like nah, it was really calm,” Balderson said. “Anyways, who is going to shoot a banana?”
Out of the 22,000 people at the rally, there was one bizarre yet telling arrest. On three separate occasions, a Richmond police officer saw Mikaela E. Beschler, 21, with a bandanna covering her face. He warned her twice to adjust the bandanna before she was arrested and charged with one felony count of wearing a mask in public.
OAC’s Absurd World
Long before the era of fake news, old-school reporters would joke, “Let’s not let the facts stand in the way of a good story.” Liberal superstar Rep. Alexandria Ortega-Cortez must have overheard the jest on Capitol Hill and took it seriously.
Hundreds of miles away, AOC was speaking with author Ta-Nehisi Coates during a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event at Riverside Church in Harlem. The crowd burst into applause after AOC gave her take on the Richmond rally.
“There’s this gun rights protest that’s happening down in Richmond and on MLK Day. And here’s the image that has struck with me the most about that,” she told the audience.
“When we go out and march for the dignity and the recognition of the lives of people, like Freddie Gray and Eric Garner, the whole place is surrounded by police in riot gear, without a gun in sight. And here are all of these people, flying Confederate flags with semi-automatic weapons and there’s almost no police officers at that protest. So, who or what are our institutions protecting from who? That image conveys it all.”
AOC was essentially asking the crowd why lots of police were at the violent and destructive riots, but not enough police were at the peaceful rally.
The death of Freddie Gray gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, which engineered riots across the country. When Eric Garner was killed by police in 2015, rioters and looters caused $9 million in damages to 285 businesses. There were 150 vehicle fires, more than 60 structure fires and 113 officers injured.
Regardless of what AOC heard, many attendees and reporters at the Richmond gun rally said they saw no, or very few Confederate flags and the place was crawling with police. According to law enforcement officials, a coordinated effort by the Virginia state police, Richmond police, and the FBI covered the entire venue.
Meanwhile, back in reality, “Men with guns on their hips bent to scrape stray stickers representing the Virginia Civil Defense League — a pro-gun advocacy group — off the pavement or to pick up random detritus off the street,” The Washington Post reported.
“People said there were all these potential problems,” said 74-year-old Alex Olenic, “but there isn’t even any trash.”