Who Does Richmond’s Gun Ban Actually Apply To? Monday’s Incidents Raise Questions.

Carrying or possessing weapons during protests is banned in Richmond, for groups of 11 or more.

By Megan Schiffres, Arianna Coghill

January 19, 2021

Armed militias ignored the gun ban, while a BLM supporter had his weapon confiscated.

RICHMOND – On Martin Luther King Day, multiple armed gun rights activists, militias and white supremacist groups took to the streets around the Capitol, breaking Richmond’s gun ban in the process. Yet no fines were handed out, none of them were arrested and no one had their weapons taken away. A different story played out just a few blocks over, however.

At Marcus-David Peters Circle, Black Lives Matter RVA held a community cookout in honor of the holiday. The event featured music, food and a community having conversations. Yet this is where police made an arrest, wrote out a summons and seized a man’s gun.

“The law only applies to Black people, doesn’t it?” Lawrence West, the founder of BLM RVA, asked police officers at the Circle. “The law only applies to us. You arrested one of us today. You ticketed one of us today. I want to know how many motherf***ers y’all arrested that are white.” 

As we mentioned above, the answer to his question is none. Law enforcement in Richmond did not arrest any militia members demonstrating Monday. That included members of the Boogaloo Bois, the Proud Boys and a few small groups of 3-5 unaffiliated pro-gun advocates. Most of them carried assault rifles. 

Mike Dunn, a prominent member of the Boogaloo Boys, said he wasn’t worried about police interference.

“We’re already successful. The police ain’t gonna do nothing,” Dunn said.

And Dunn was right. But that inaction raised several questions, especially about why laws don’t seem to always be enforced equally in the city.

What Does Richmond’s Gun Ban Say?

Last September, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney brought a proposal to the city council. The idea was to take guns out of the equation when it came to passionate groups of protestors possibly clashing. The council agreed, unanimously making it illegal to carry or possess guns during a permitted event or an event that would require a permit, like a protest.

Specifically, the ordinance bans guns, ammunition and any combination “in any public street, road, alley, or sidewalk or public right-of way or any other place of whatever nature that is open to the public and is being used by or is adjacent to a permitted event or an event that would require a permit.” That’s a long sentence but a clear one.

The adjacent part means alleys, sidewalks, streets and any other public right of way. If there’s a protest downtown and you’re nearby, leave the guns at home. 

But even before Monday, there had been questions about enforcement. On Election Night last November, Richmond police did not enforce the gun ban on an armed caravan of white supremacist protesters. However, that same night, police pulled a group of Black Lives Matter protesters over and interrogated them about openly carrying guns. 

Again on Monday, Richmond Police, Virginia State Police (VSP), and Capitol Police watched as armed groups paraded around the Capitol grounds, proudly displaying assault rifles.

Who Does The Gun Ban Apply To?

RPD officials argued those groups weren’t actually breaking the law. The department issued a statement saying the city ordinance only applied to groups or events needing a permit. They argued that includes “groups of 11+ people obstructing pedestrian or vehicular traffic in the vicinity of the signs.”

Armed demonstrators repeatedly blocked pedestrian traffic by congregating in the middle of the street, on sidewalks, and on street corners. So under the department’s statement, they would all seem to qualify for the gun ban. However, they received no citations.

Here’s where we go into the weeds a bit. The department directed Dogwood and other media groups to Sec. 27-416 of the Richmond Code. A public assembly needing a permit is defined there as “any meeting, demonstration, picket line, rally or gathering of more than 10 people.”

Even though groups of more than 30 got off the same buses or drove in as caravans, Richmond Police considered them to be separate. And since groups smaller than 11 wouldn’t need a permit, they argue, therefore the ordinance didn’t apply.

But again, just a few blocks over, a different standard was used.

Out of all the guns on display Monday, the RPD only seized one. On North Allen St, Richmond officers confiscated a gun from a Black man at the BLM Cookout. Officers say they confiscated the gun because it was concealed. 

However, Dogwood reporters didn’t see any of the militia members being checked for concealed weapons or asked for permits as they got off buses or marched around the city. RPD officials didn’t explain the difference.

RELATED: Richmond Police Say ‘No Gun’ Rule is Only a Rule Sometimes


Was a Trombone Player Truly The Priority?

Meanwhile, it seemed a trombonist posed a higher threat than the groups marching downtown. During Monday’s demonstrations, Richmond Police only arrested one person. That man was Isaiah Robinson, who was making his way to MDP Circle. Officers said he had an outstanding warrant for missing a court date five months ago. 

Last year, Robinson was in a fight with someone who he claims stole his phone. Police say he missed a court hearing on the incident.

“I didn’t even know I had a court date,” Robinson told police as they arrested him.

His girlfriend, who was present at the arrest, confirmed that Robinson didn’t know he had an outstanding warrant. 

Most people know Robinson as “King Trombone”, because he’s often playing the trombone at the Circle. In fact, before his arrest, he was on his way to do just that.

During his arrest, Robinson verbalized multiple times that he has bipolar disorder and anxiety, which he takes medication for. A victim of police brutality in the past, he also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The suddenness of this arrest eventually triggered an anxiety attack.


During his arrest, two more cop cars arrived on the scene, adding to Robinson’s panic. As a person with mental illness, he thinks that the police should have handled the situation better. 

“I can’t even feel my hand. They kept the cuffs on me for an hour,” said Robinson. “I told them that I have anxiety and bipolar disorder. They had too many cops around me. You don’t do that to a person who has the disorders that I have. That’s how they got Marcus.” 

Community Care Organizers Calm Crisis Situation

Robinson was referring to Marcus-David Peters. In 2018, Richmond Police officer Michael Nyantakyi shot and killed the school teacher while Peters suffered a mental health episode. Three months ago, the city ruled the shooting justified.

Several members of BLM RVA gathered around Robinson during the arrest, trying to calm him down and deescalate the situation. According to Robinson, without them the situation could have gone south very soon.

“I only calmed down because Lawrence West told me to breathe,” Robinson said. 

West, the founder of BLM RVA, has known Robinson for a while. He also knows how bad the situation could have become if he didn’t intervene. 

“That could’ve escalated to one of those types of situations,” West said, gesturing towards the memorials of police brutality victims around the monument. “But, by us being there and having that relationship with him, we helped diffuse the situation. That is the least of what could have happened.”

Two hours later, RPD eventually released Robinson from custody and was able to play his trombone once again. But, he said that the officers never told him why he was free to go. 

“I didn’t get fingerprinted or had pictures taken of me,” said Robinson. “So why did they do this to me? I’m telling you, y’all are going to believe that racism is real in 2021. It’s right before our eyes.”  

Meg Schiffres is Dogwood’s associate editor. You can reach her at [email protected].

Arianna Coghill is a content producer for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].

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