BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) A hearing on the governor's budget proposal might have seemed like a surprising venue for Virginians concerned about gun control legislation.
But they turned out in force as members of the General Assembly money committees listened to more than 60 speakers.
"I think if you fund what he's trying to push, you are complicit in taking away my right to be protected," one speaker told the lawmakers.
Senator Bill Carrico, along with Delegates Charles Poindexter and Nick Rush, heard a variety of appeals for more funding, to benefit disabled Virginians and their caregivers, court clerks, the mental health system and rural schools, to name just a few.
Gun rights advocates argued taxpayer dollars would be better spent on those priorities than on any legislation that would infringe upon their rights to keep and bear arms.
"Common sense? Public Safety? I think not," said another speaker. "Tyrannical oppression and control better describe the current objectives in Virginia."
At least two speakers affiliated with the group Moms Demand Action supported efforts to reduce gun violence included in the governor's budget.
"States that have invested in programs like these have seen steady declines in their rates of daily gun violence," said one of the advocates.
But most of those who spoke on the issue identified themselves as allies of the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement.
"It is the hottest issue that I have had in my career in state government and local government," said Poindexter. "I've had more contacts, more emails, more phone calls. I can't go shopping. I can't stop to get gas."
"I think you're going to see more and more people turn up, because they are afraid of what is being said and what is being done," Carrico told WDBJ7.
Both lawmakers we interviewed said they are concerned about rising tensions surrounding the issue.
Poindexter said he sees a disconnect between rural and urban Virginia, and hopes lawmakers can address the divide.
Carrico sent a letter to Governor Ralph Northam, encouraging him to defuse the issue in his State of the Commonwealth address next week.
Lawmakers return to Richmond for the start of the General Assembly session Wednesday.
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