Openly Carried Long Arms in Virginia – VCDL’s Position

Brandon Howard Protest Obama while open carrying his AR15 in Virginia
Brandon Howard Protest Obama while open carrying his AR15 in Virginia
Virginia Citizens Defense League
Virginia Citizens Defense League

Covington VA –-( Let me start with making the following key point:  VCDL is NOT a gun-control organization.  Period.

We support the right of gun owners to do whatever they choose as long as they are not breaking the law.

Keep that at the forefront of your thoughts as you read on.

VCDL member Brandon Howard recently open carried an AR-15 at three different Tea Party protest events held at different locations and on different days.

(The rifle  was strapped on his back and had a loaded magazine in the gun, but did not have a round in the chamber.)  

At those events, Brandon and the other Tea Party members would simply hold signs on an overpass so that those on the expressway below could read them and honk in support of their message.

The police showed up at each of three locations, but at only one of those locations, Hopewell, was there any kind of issue over that rifle.  What happened in Hopewell was inexcusable.

Brandon's first encounter with the police was on a bridge in Colonial Heights.  In that encounter two Colonial Heights officers simply inquired what the group was doing.  Once told it was a protest where everyone would be holding signs for those driving underneath to see, the officers told the protesters to have a good day and left.  Hats off to the Colonial Heights PD.  They did their job, followed the law, and acted professionally.

Brandon's second encounter was very different.  There the police showed up – eight of them – lights flashing, guns drawn, and pointing at Brandon!  Without any civil discourse, the police proceeded to do a “felony stop” having Brandon walk backwards towards an officer's voice and with his hands fully in the air.  He was handcuffed, his rifle literally thrown into the trunk of one of the police cars, was taken to the PD headquarters, and “detained” for 2 hours!  Let's be clear here – when a officer, or anyone else, points a gun at you, you are in immediate danger of death or grievous bodily injury.  Police pointing guns at you should only occur if YOU are threatening THEM with death or grievous bodily injury.

Brandon was NOT a threat at all.  His guns were holstered and both of his hands were occupied holding a sign.  

He made no quick or sudden moves and complied with all commands.   Yet the police intentionally put his life in grave danger.  That was shameful behavior by those entrusted with public safety.

I was able to view a video of the third encounter, this time with a solitary Prince George police officer.  I really like this officer – he's incredibly patient, but professional at the same time.  He is not concerned with the guns carried by Brandon and others at the protest.  He had already summed up the situation and did not feel threatened, nor did he call for backup.  No drawn gun, no felony stop.  Instead he politely engaged the protesters in conversation at first, repeating his name so it can be recorded on the video.  His sole concern is with the particular bridge they picked.  He pointed out there was no sidewalk and, hence, no really safe place to stand on the two-lane bridge.  In the video he tells the protesters that if they pick a different bridge that has a sidewalk, he wouldn't have any other issues with them and would be on his way.

One of areas where police have authority is in a situation where the general public is in danger.  In this case, not only might the protesters be in danger from vehicles topping the bridge, but also the drivers of those vehicles might be in danger if they have to swerve away from a protester who might inadvertently be standing too close to the traffic lane.  That could cause a car wreck, even a possible head-on collision with a car coming in the opposite direction.

In the video, one of the protesters decides to debate the officer's authority in asking that they move off the bridge, while still standing on the bridge!  That is NOT a good idea.  A lawful order was given to move off the bridge.  MOVE OFF THE BRIDGE.  Once you have complied with his order, then continue the debate, if you and the officer are so inclined.  What's funny in the video is that Brandon had picked up on that very point and can be seen in the video (standing to the left of the officer) desperately trying to give the person holding the camera a “cut it” sign to stop arguing with the officer and just comply.

(In the captions the protester put in the video, he said Brandon was making that sign because he was fed up with police abuse – not so.  Brandon assured me on the phone that my interpretation is the correct one.  This misinterpretation probably explains what happens next.)

But the protester either misunderstands the important signal from Brandon, or is too involved in arguing with the officer to notice or heed it.  The officer repeatedly and calmly asks the protester to move off the bridge, but the protester continues his verbal barrage of questions.  Finally the officer puts the protester (in the red shirt) in cuffs and places him in the police car under investigative detention.  I think in this case it was more of a “time out” to get the protester to calm down and stop arguing and just comply.  The officer is bending over backward not to arrest him.  Based on that video, I believe he had the authority to do an arrest at that point for failure to obey a lawful order.  Also the officer removed the protester's gun, which was in a paddle holster, holster and all and did not take the gun out of the holster, unloaded it, etc.  More kudos to the officer for avoiding any unnecessary gun handling.  I wish more of his colleagues would do the same.

In the end, the officer takes the handcuffs of the protester in the red shirt and returns his gun, ending the detention.

That is a top-notch officer in my books and speaks well for the Prince George police force.

Jimmy Barrett had an excellent interview with Brandon on Friday morning.  I was surprised earlier this week when Jimmy went on the attack without sufficient details on what happened in Hopewell.  On Friday, Jimmy took the high road and did the interview.  Hats off to Jimmy for giving Brandon a chance to give his side of what happened.

I knew when I put the original story out on VA-ALERT that some readers would contact me, upset that I didn't condemn the open carry of rifles, especially on a bridge.  Sure enough, I got somewhere around 15 such emails.

A common theme was “it may be legal, but it isn't smart!” or “it will be harmful to our efforts,” or “not opposing it discredits VCDL.

We all see the world through our own eyes and sometimes forget that what is “reasonable” to one person, is totally unreasonable to another.  Who should be the arbiter of “smart” or “reasonable?”   Dick “Deliverance” Saslaw?  Chuck Schumer?  Michael Bloomberg?  Sheila Jackson Lee?

Heck, I don't think sky diving is a good idea.  But I'd never suggest that it be banned.  I simply won't be participating. 😉

Look at it this way:  if we aren't free to do things that somebody, somewhere, thinks are “stupid,” or “unreasonable,” then we aren't free at all.

VCDL keeps it simple – we don't discourage LEGAL activities.

When handling firearms, VCDL *strongly* encourages everyone to follow firearm safety rules.

Jeff Cooper's Rules of Gun Safety (

  • 1. All guns are always loaded
  • 2. NEVER let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy
  • 3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target
  • 4. Be sure of your target

*** Rule #2 can be much more challenging when carrying a long gun, especially in an urban setting. ***

Suggesting that VCDL discourage someone like Brandon from carrying his rifle openly is to ask VCDL to support gun control, for that's exactly what we would be doing!  If you don't like how someone exercises a right, you don't have to do what they are doing.  But don't draw some artificial limit on what other gun owners can **legally** do, or you are no better than Sarah Brady.

Virginia Citizens Defense League, Inc. (VCDL). VCDL is an all-volunteer, non-partisan grassroots organization dedicated to defending the human rights of all Virginians. The Right to Keep and Bear Arms is a fundamental human right. Visit:

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