RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Gun-rights groups asked a judge Thursday to block Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam from banning guns on Capitol grounds during a massive pro-gun rally scheduled for next week.

Northam on Wednesday announced a state of emergency and banned all weapons from the rally, citing threats that armed militia groups were planning to attend. The Virginia Citizens Defense League and Gunowners of America filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking an injunction against the ban on firearms.

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The lawsuit came the same day the FBI announced the arrest of three alleged white supremacists in Maryland, two of whom authorities said had built an assault rifle using several parts and purchased large quantities of ammunition.


David Browne, an attorney for the gun-rights groups, argued that prohibiting rallygoers from carrying guns would violate their Second Amendment right to bear arms and their First Amendment right to free speech. Browne said carrying guns is a form of symbolic speech.

Virginia’s solicitor general, Toby Heytens argued that the governor was well within his authority to declare the state of emergency and ban weapons after law enforcement identified “credible evidence” that out-of-state groups planned to come to Virginia armed, with the possible intention of participating in a “violent insurrection.”

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Richmond Circuit Court Judge Joi Taylor said she would issue her ruling later Thursday.

While the court challenge was going on, Virginia senators were debating a package of gun-control bills.

The Democratic-led Senate advanced legislation limiting handgun purchases to once a month, universal background checks on gun purchases, and allowing localities to ban guns in public buildings, parks and other areas.

Democrats said the measures were needed to improve public safety. Republicans decried the legislation as an assault on the Second Amendment.

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