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Gun-Rights Advocates Carried Military-Style Rifles Through the Old Town Farmers’ Market This Weekend

The demonstration took place at the market, which takes place in front of Alexandria's city hall every Saturday. Photograph of city hall via iStock.

About a half-dozen people carried military-style rifles through the Old Town Farmers’ Market in front of city hall this past weekend, alarming some Alexandria residents, David Pratt reports for Blue Virginia. One vendor called Alexandria police, Pratt writes, but officers were unable to do anything because even though the guns were reportedly loaded, the men weren’t breaking Virginia law.

A group called The Right to Bear Arms from Richmond was responsible for the demonstration, city spokesperson Craig Fifer tells Washingtonian in an email. They walked along several blocks in Old Town and had lunch at a local restaurant, Fifer says. In one photo posted on Facebook, a man clad in a black shirt and jorts carries an AR-15 pattern rifle with a bipod and a scope amid vendors selling artisanal goat cheese and painstakingly flavored loaves of bread.

ARMED GUN MAN w/ ASSAULT WEAPON. A vendor at the Old Town Alexandria VA open market called the Police this weekend to…

Posted by John Flannery on Sunday, September 8, 2019

That man appears to be Brandon Howard, a member of the group who’s currently a candidate for city council in Hopewell, Virginia. A video on the group’s Facebook page shows Howard walking through the seaport town speaking of the group’s intention to “educate” locals about gun rights.

Posted by The Right to Bear Arms Richmond, Virginia on Saturday, September 7, 2019

The police reviewed the group’s plans in advance, which “did not identify any threat of violence or disorder,” Fifer writes in his email. “Unfortunately, localities in Virginia are prohibited by state law from applying community standards to the use and display of firearms.”

Indeed, Alexandria has tried to mitigate Virginia’s famously lenient gun laws in the past. In the mid-’90s it passed a ban on firearms on city property that survived a court challenge, only to be preempted by a 2002 law passed by the General Assembly (and signed by then Governor Mark Warner) that prevented local governments from making any such policy. Alexandria’s city council plans to consider more gun-related legislation at its meeting this Saturday. The package, Fifer says, “includes requests to the General Assembly for common sense gun regulations, including the ability for localities to regulate how guns may be used in government facilities.”

Such enabling legislation is far from assured. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam called a special session of the legislature this year to consider modifying Virginia’s gun laws following a mass shooting in Virginia Beach this year. Republicans, who control the legislature by a vanishingly thin margin, adjourned the session after 90 minutes. (The NRA had set up space in House speaker Kirk Cox‘s office for the occasion. “Kirk Cox did not talk to the N.R.A. before the special session,” Cox told the New York Times, using the third person for some reason, afterward.)

There’s little support for open carry at the Old Town Farmer’s Market on Facebook posts that I’ve seen. Many people have vented their frustration about the city’s inability to prevent people from walking around with loaded rifles, including Wilson. Some have floated a plan to take the market, which the city administers, private and to rent the space from the city, which would allow the manager to ban guns. But the general consensus seems to be to wait and see whether Democrats flip the assembly in November.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.