Pro-gun rally at Virginia capital draws thousands of armed protesters

Over 15,000 gun rights advocates descended upon Richmond to protest the state's proposed gun control laws. The rally ended peacefully despite threats from armed militias and white supremacist groups.
7:18 | 01/21/20

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Transcript for Pro-gun rally at Virginia capital draws thousands of armed protesters
Usa! Reporter: Flags held high, ar-15s slung over their shoulders, these protesters say they're here to fight for the future of their country. Guns save lives. It's obvious. It's our gd-given right to protect ourselves, our family. It's America, right? Live free. Reporter: Virginia. The latest flash-point in the gun debate sweeping the country. Virginia tightening security ahead of a protest defending the second amendment as it's under assault there. Reporter: Monday's rally comes in response to three new gun control bills. Governor Ralph blackface Northam downplaying Democrats' plans to strip people of their second amendment rights. Reporter: More than 20,000 gun rights activists descended on Richmond today for what used to be a small annual event. A state of emergency declared. The crowd protesting the state's efforts to overhaul gun laws. As Virginia goes so does the rest of the nation. That's what I believe. Reporter: The rally just got under way. An officer told me they expected about 10,000 people here inside on the capitol grounds but outside on the streets there are thousands more. Last may in Virginia Beach a gunman entered a municipal building and killed 12 people, sparking a renewed conversation around gun control. There's been a stark political shift. Democrats now in control. The legislature and the governorship have proposed sweeping gun control legislation, requiring background checks on all firearm sales, capped handgun purchases at one per month, and let local governments ban weapons from certain locations. President trump tweeting today that Democrats are working hard "To take away your second amendment rights. This is just the beginning." Virginia currently has some of the weakest gun laws in the nation according to the giffords law center. The people showing up right here sends a message to governor Northam and the Democrats that our rights shall not be infringed. These infringements are unconstitutional. So we're going to challenge them all the way up to the supreme court. Reporter: The Geary family of six drove 100 miles to be here today. Values our constitutional rights and the right to bear arms I think is very important. And if I don't do it for them, then they won't have those rights that I grew up with. Reporter: Is that why you wanted to bring them out today, to show them an example? I want them to learn early you need to take an active role in protecting your rights and voicing your opinion. Reporter: 6-year-old Charlie just beginning to understand the lessons his father's teaching him. From families to those in costume invoking the founding fathers. What did you bring with you? This is a colt rifle. Can we see it? More than 60 years old. This rifle wasn't a problem 30 years ago. It wasn't a problem 20 years ago necessarily. Why is it a problem today? Reporter: Today's protest was peaceful. But that's not what authorities were expecting. Last week governor Ralph Northam imposed a temporary weapons ban on the designated protest area around the capitol building. We are seeing threats of violence. We're seeing threats of armed confrontation and assault on our capitol. Reporter: Rallygoers still bore arms today, pouring out into the surrounding streets where weapons were not banned. Why did you want to be armed today? I think it's important. I carry it all the time anyways. Not necessarily the ar-15. But just to show that it is a right that we do have. I think all women should learn how to use a firearm and carry it with them on a regular basis. It's a great feeling of protection. Reporter: Throughout the crowd was a smattering of various fringe group. Can I ask what that patch This one? The one that says rwds. You can look it up. Reporter: It stands for right wing death squad, an expression the anti-defamation league says is used by some on the extremist right. So it's open? It's open. Reporter: Today's heightened security came in the wake of the arrest of seven suspected members of a fringe white supremacist group called the base last week. The base is a group that despises minorities and immigrants and will use violence to bring about what it sees as overthrowing the United States government and everything that the U.S. Stands for right now. Reporter: In Maryland authorities say three suspected members of the base were plotting to attend the Richmond rally with hopes of starting a racial war. Georgia the FBI says these three men allegedly had plans to overthrow the government while planning an attack on members of the left-wing group antifa. And in Wisconsin federal charges have been brought against a leader of the base for his suspected role in vandalizing a synagogue. We have to not tar second amendment protesters with the same brush as white supremacists. We have advocates for the second amendment that have nothing to do whatsoever. And that's the overwhelming majority. Reporter: Today's protests brought with it the painful memories of another Virginia gathering. Jews will not replace us! Reporter: Charlottesville, where in 2017 white supremacists and other far right groups held their largest demonstration in a decade. And a white supremacist killed a counterprotester, Heather Heyer, injuring dozens more. Law enforcement officials faced criticism for what many called a passive response. I think post-charlottesville there was a lot of people in this country that were quite surprised at the sheer magnitude in numbers at individuals and groups who came out to support the unite the right rally. And I think there's a constant fear percolating just below the surface of everyday Americans that we're just around the corner from another incident like charlottesville. Were you nervous at all coming out here today given there was a fear there might be some white supremacist groups? One, they don't bother me. Two, I'm not afraid of anybody, to be honest. I've got god and my guns. Yeah. I can't bring my guns in here, so I've got god with me. Reporter: Though the rally was overwhelmingly white, Devin Perkins believes the fight for gun rights crosses racial lines. And you're against these new gun restrictions now? Completely against them. Look at history. We've had slave codes, black codes, Jim crow. These are all laws that were implemented to keep black people from defending themselves in any kind of way. Reporter: A few steps away inside the capitol this member of the black lives matter movement feels very differently. With the threat of gun violence today from the armed militias out there, I'd rather call them terrorists because that's what they are to me, it definitely has given me like a lot of flashbacks today to charlottesville because I was one of the youngest counterprotesters in charlottesville. Reporter: Kiazolu is part of the student group March for our lives formed in the wake of the parkland shooting. She and other students camped out in the Richmond capitol building overnight to lobby for gun control. The other side is afraid and they realize this is a turning point and this is a turning point not just for Virginia politics but nationwide. Reporter: What was your main goal, then, in coming here and spending your night in a government office? For all the legislators to see that young people are here, we care, and we are not apathetic when it comes to these issues and they're going to ee these are your constituents, these are the people that care, these are the people that are showing up and our voices should be heard and taken seriously. Reporter: Voices from inside the capitol and out. This debate over guns and the right to bear arms, as old as our country itself. For "Nightline" I'm Victor Oquendo in Richmond, Virginia.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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