Donald Trump has defended pro-gun activists and attacked Virginia Democrats over efforts to pass gun control laws ahead of a rally that is expected to be attended by neo-Nazis and white supremacist extremist groups.
Authorities in Richmond, Virginia’s capital, have warned of “credible threats of violence” amid fears a pro-gun rally, which has been billed a peaceful event to defend Second Amendment rights, could become a repeat of the violent Charlottesville rally which saw three deaths in 2017.
“Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia,” Mr Trump tweeted, in reference to the constitutional right for Americans to keep and bear firearms.
“That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away.”
On Wednesday, Virginia’s governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of Monday’s event and warned law enforcement agencies had seen evidence of “extremist rhetoric” similar to the kind seen before the Charlottesville rally.
The state of emergency has temporarily banned firearms and other weapons on Capitol grounds, where the demonstration is set to take place.
Despite concerns over potential violence, Virginia’s senate passed bills late on Thursday to require background checks on all firearms sales, limit handgun purchases to one a month and restore local governments' right to ban weapons from public buildings and other venues.
The gun legislation comes after Democrats took full control of the state legislature for the first time in a generation in November, when candidates made passing stronger gun control laws a central theme of their campaign.
On Friday, the Supreme Court of Virginia denied a request to block the state of emergency and kept the ban on firearms in effect.
Mr Northam welcomed the ruling, which he said was the “right decision”.
“I took this action to protect Virginians from credible threats of violence,” the governor said.
“These threats are real - as evidenced by reports of neo-Nazis arrested this morning after discussing plans to head to Richmond with firearms.”
He added: “I will continue to do everything in my power to keep Virginians safe.”
Gun-control activists have reported a growing number of online death threats due to the push for legislation ahead of the rally.
The mother of Heather Heyer, the civil rights activist who was killed while protesting against neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, told The Independent she is concerned about an “incitement of violence” ahead of the event in Richmond.
“I just think everyone needs to take a moment and breathe, but I think we’re past that point,” Susan Bro said.
“To anybody planning violence: stay the hell away from Richmond,” she added.
Virginia’s legislature is expected to pass further gun control laws, including universal background checks, a ban on assault rifles and “red flag” laws that would allow courts and local law enforcement to remove guns from people who are seen as a risk to communities.
Supporters have said these laws would help decrease the number of deaths from gun violence each year.
However, gun-rights activists have argued that the legislation goes against the constitutional right to possess firearms.
In 2017, Mr Trump was widely-criticised for initially saying there were “fine people on both sides” in the clashes at Charlottesville, which saw neo-Nazis and white supremacists fighting with civil rights groups and anti-fascist activists.
Additional reporting by Reuters