What is the bigger risk inside a state capitol building: openly carrying an American flag or an assault rifle? In Virginia, visitors to the state legislature cannot bring American flags and signs affixed to sticks, because capitol security considers sticks a public threat. Firearms, however, are allowed.
A group of gun violence prevention activists discovered this when they arrived on Monday to attend a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event. According to Virginia Capitol Police, the groups were informed beforehand of the restriction barring sticks at permitted rallies, because they can be used as weapons. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’s Gena Reeder said they were aware of the rules, but “certainly not in our wildest imagination thought that could apply to the American flag.”
While the moms tore out the dowels of their flags, capitol grounds visitors with firearms were ushered through the entrance. That day, Virginia Citizens Defense League and other gun rights groups organized a “Guns Save Lives” day. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that about half of the crowd was armed, packing weapons that ranged from handguns to assault rifles.
The anti-gun violence activists couldn’t reconcile this conflicting message in their heads, Reeder explained. “We are sending a message that you cannot hand carry an American flag into a state capitol, but you can bring a loaded weapon,” Reeder told ThinkProgress. “Are guns becoming more patriotic than an American flag?
Meanwhile, others walked by like this:
The same weekend, gun violence prevention activists faced a similar situation in the Washington state capitol. Moms Demand Action’s Washington Chapter Leader Kate Beck said the group arrived to lobby the capitol for gun violence action, only to find out all signs with sticks could not be carried inside. However, Washington state allows firearms on its capitol campus.
Virginia is not the only state that allows guns in its legislative buildings. Texas faced an awkward situation last year when police confiscated tampons from the gallery in the midst of a debate on abortion restrictions, while allowing others to walk in with firearms. In Kentucky, another state with open carry inside public buildings, a lawmaker accidentally fired a handgun in her capitol office. Kentucky state Rep. Leslie Combs (D) shrugged off the incident. “I’m a gun owner,” she said. “It happens.”