A major gun rights rally is scheduled for Monday in the capital of the U.S. southeastern state of Virginia.
Thousands of pro-gun activists, included armed militia members, are expected to gather in Richmond at a time when Democrats have full control of the state legislature for the first time in a generation.
Democratic lawmakers have made passing tougher gun control laws a central campaign theme.
FBI Arrests 3 White Supremacists Ahead of Pro-gun Rally Two are charged with transporting a firearm and ammunition with intent to commit a felony; the third is charged with transporting and harboring aliens
The Virginia Senate approved legislation late Thursday requiring background checks on all firearm sales and limiting handgun purchases to one a month. The senate also passed a bill to restore local government right to ban weapons from public buildings and other venues.
Neo-Nazi, militia and other gun-rights groups have promised to gather enmasse on the capital for Monday’s rally, which is organized annually by the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
The planned demonstration harkens back to a violent white supremacist rally in nearby Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, when one woman was killed and more than 30 other people injured as a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Amid threats of violence and a possible heavy turnout, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, declared a temporary state of emergency Wednesday that bans all weapons from Richmond’s Capitol Square during Monday’s rally to prevent “armed militia groups (from) storming our capitol.”
Gun-rights groups, which contend the constitution guarantees their right to own any firearm, asked the Virginia Supreme Court rule the temporary ban unconstitutional, but the court upheld the ban on Friday.
Northam said authorities have received credible threats of violence, including the deployment of weaponized drones over Capitol Square.
Extremist groups have also inundated social media and the internet with threatening messages and hints of violence.
The FBI arrested three alleged members of a white supremacist group on gun charges Thursday, partly due to concern that they planned to incite violence at the rally.
Both houses of the Virginia legislature are expected to approve even more restrictive gun control laws, including a ban on assault rifles and “red flag” laws aimed at taking guns from people who are considered risk to communities.
U.S. President Donald Trump had words of support late Friday for gun rights supporters in Virginia, tweeting, “That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away.”
Supporters of tighter gun control laws say they would help reduce the number of people killed by guns each year.