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Armed man protests at delegate’s house over proposed Virginia gun ban

A sign attacking Gov. Ralph Northam is seen just outside Capitol Square during the Jan. 20 gun rights rally in Richmond.
A sign attacking Gov. Ralph Northam is seen just outside Capitol Square during the Jan. 20 gun rights rally in Richmond. (Timothy C. Wright/For the Washington Post)

RICHMOND — Virginia's debate over gun control took a personal turn last weekend when a man armed with a semiautomatic long gun stood outside the Alexandria home of Del. Mark H. Levine in a manner the lawmaker said was intended "to coerce or threaten" him to drop support for an assault weapons ban he had sponsored.

“He stood outside my kitchen window for a couple hours or so,” Levine (D) said Monday in a speech on the floor of the House of Delegates. He said he asked police to encourage the man — Brandon Howard, 43, of Hopewell — to instead visit or protest at his legislative office in Richmond, but the man declined.

Later, Levine saw a video posted online by Howard and then “understood why he declined,” he said. “He made it very clear that I was just to be the first [lawmaker targeted], that he could find all of our homes. . . . That we should kiss our wives goodbye, kiss our husbands goodbye, kiss our children goodbye because he would use the business end of his gun.”

Democrats won majorities in this year’s General Assembly in part by promising to enact gun control, which became an especially hot issue after last year’s mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building. The prospect has sparked dramatic responses from gun rights advocates, including a massive rally in Richmond last month that drew armed protesters and militia members from around the country.

While Levine’s proposed ban was killed Monday by a Senate committee, seven other pieces of gun-control legislation championed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) remain alive in the legislature.

Howard, reached Tuesday by phone, said he was “there to peacefully protest,” not to pose a threat. He said he wanted to send a message about the Second Amendment, which he said was put in place “for the citizens to be able to defend against a tyrannical government.”

He contended that Levine’s proposed ban would have stripped people of their rights, making the lawmaker “an enemy of the Constitution. And we’re making it known that we will not stand by and allow him to do it.”

Howard is chairman of the Republican Party of Hopewell, just southeast of Richmond, and is running for city council there. He also protested outside the Capitol in Richmond in July, when Northam called a special legislative session to consider gun control. Fully armed, Howard got into a debate with a gun-control advocate at that event and told a reporter that he wanted to foster constructive dialogue.

On Tuesday he stood by his statements in the video, which he posted to Facebook. Howard gave out Levine’s home address and suggested that his bill to ban the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines would have caused police to raid the homes of law-abiding citizens.

“He wants to send armed men to our house with the intent to confiscate, arrest and possibly even kill us,” Howard says in the video, recorded in his car. “. . . So we’re going to tell Mark Levine, we know where you live. And armed citizens of the commonwealth are going to come to your house. To your doorstep.”

Howard said he carried two firearms — a Rock Island VR60 12-gauge shotgun and a Bersa .380 Thunder handgun, both semiautomatic — and showed his permit for the weapons when approached by a police officer. Howard said the officer thanked him and left.

Alexandria police could not be reached for comment.

After about two hours, Howard said, he and his companions left without being asked.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson (D) tweeted about the incident Tuesday: “Intimidation and harassment is not the way we settle ideological differences in this country, in our Commonwealth and in our City. These tactics have no place in our public discourse and do not advance ANY cause.”

Asked about the situation, Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks referred to a bill advancing in the General Assembly that would give localities the power to prohibit firearms from public spaces. “The position of the City Council has been when state law allows, there would be a ban on guns on city property, including City Hall and the park in front of Levine’s house. We think that is better public policy,” Jinks said.

In his floor speech, delivered after the Senate committee killed his bill, Levine said there are more effective ways to contact him to make a point about legislation.

“What’s not appropriate is to come to my house with a loaded gun,” he said, his voice rising. “That will not work, that will never work with me, and I suggest it will never work with any member of this body. Don’t do it,” he said, as lawmakers began to applaud.

Patricia Sullivan contributed to this report.

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