A Brief History of the Virginia Citizens Defense League
Article first appeared on Ammoland.com
U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- Paul Moog founded the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) as the Northern Virginia Citizens Defense League (NVCDL) in 1994. Up until the 1990s, most states were “may issue” or “no issue” states when it came to issuing a permit to carry a concealed firearm. May issue means that the gun owner needs to show “good cause” why they need to carry a concealed firearm. The applicant would need to prove that there were credible threats to their safety, or that they regularly transport large amounts of money or valuables to qualify for a permit. No issue means that the state will not issue a license to conceal carry a firearm to the gun owner at all.
In 1994, Virginia was a “may issue” state. Moog saw the changes in concealed carry laws spreading across the country and decided he wanted to organize an effort in the Commonwealth to change to the law to “shall issue.” Northern Virginia Citizens Defense League (NVCDL) was born out of this crusade.
Operating from the Gun Owners of America office in Springfield, they successfully lobbied the Virginia legislature to introduce a bill that would let anyone eligible to own a gun to get a concealed handgun permit (CHP). In 1995 the state legislature passed the new law and that July anyone that took a class, paid a fee, and passed a background could get a CHP and legally carry a concealed handgun. Today, in a state will 8.5 million residents, nearly 500,000 of its citizens have a CHP.
Building on this success, Moog and the NVCDL moved onto other firearms-related issues in Virginia. Their goal was to make Virginia as gun friendly as possible. By 1998 the organization spread across the Commonwealth. The organization was no longer just based in Northern Virginia. It was time for a change to reflect the group’s now statewide efforts. In May of that year, the Northern Virginia Citizens Defense League became the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
The name changes better represented the membership base. VCDL grew to be one of the most influential and well-respected state-level gun rights organization in the country. The organization would revolutionize the use of its membership base to accomplish goals. Instead of using membership fees to pay lobbyists, the group turned its members into citizen lobbyists through its grassroots efforts.
VCDL is known for its alert system. The group sends email alerts to its membership base as well as the public that signs up to receive them. The emails break down issues in a concise and easy to understand format. It highlights what legislature or local council is considering, how it will affect the Virginia gun owner, and what the average citizen can do to either support the change or object to it.
The requested actions could be showing up and speaking out as we saw in the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement that started in late 2019 in Virginia. As of 2020, over 96% of the state is a Second Amendment Sanctuary. This accomplishment would not have been possible without 1000s of VCDL members showing up to speak and show support for gun rights at local government meetings.
These alert emails often will contain a link that lets the gun owner quickly contact their representatives to support or oppose pending legislation with a single click. The idea is to flood the politician with as many pro-gun emails and letters as possible. These efforts have been very successful in shaping gun policy in Virginia.
Every January since 2003, VCDL holds a “lobby day” in Richmond at the Capitol. Thousands of Virginia gun owners flood the Capitol to hold a rally and talk to their elected officials about gun policy. In 2020 tens of thousands of gun owners of every race, sexual orientation, gender, and religion marched on the Capitol in opposition to newly proposed gun control measures. The event garnered national media attention.
The 2020 rally was so massive and powerful that Democrat State Senator Chap Petersen said on Fox News that VCDL’s Lobby Day was the reason that the “assault firearms bill” failed to pass in the Virginia Senate. What VCDL did with allies from Gun Owners of America was to create a significant gun rights movement not only in Virginia but around the country.
Up until 2003, local jurisdictions could craft their own gun control laws independent of state law. Under these local ordinances, a gun owner could be well within the law in one town, but once they crossed into the next town over, they could be guilty of and prosecuted for a crime. The difference in rules led to mass confusion among gun owners and caused a lot of otherwise law-abiding gun owners to run afoul of the local law.
VCDL successfully fought to get a comprehensive preemption bill introduced and passed in the 2004 legislative session. It prevented local municipalities from restricting the right of the people to bear arms more than state law. In 2020 preemption was cut back by the new Democrat-controlled legislature.
Since various anti-gun laws passed in 2020, VCDL has been a part of multiple lawsuits against these new anti-liberty laws. The gun-rights group saw success in Lynchburg, by suing Governor Northam over his ban on indoor shooting ranges operating during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic. The attorneys for VCDL argued the Governor overstepped his boundaries and violated Virginia law when he shut down the ranges. The judge agreed with VCDL’s attorneys and ordered the Lynchburg range to reopen.
VCDL also sued the Governor over the new “one handgun a month” law he championed. The organization argues that this would be the same as telling a person how many newspapers or bibles they can buy within a given month. The group also sued over universal background checks since the law requiring private buyers to go through a background check prevents anyone from under the age of 21 from purchasing a handgun. In Virginia, anyone over the age of 18 can buy a handgun, but federal law will not allow licensed firearms dealers to transfer a handgun to anyone under 21. Since it is now illegal to transfer a gun without going through a dealer, the law prevents anyone under 21 from exercising their guaranteed state right.
For these reasons, the Virginia Citizens Defense League is my top pick for state-level gun rights group in the Old Dominion.
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. He is the former CEO of Veritas Firearms, LLC and is the co-host of The Patriot News Podcast which can be found at www.blogtalkradio.com/patriotnews. John has written extensively on the patriot movement including 3%’ers, Oath Keepers, and Militias. In addition to the Patriot movement, John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and is currently working on a book on leftist deplatforming methods and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, on Facebook at realjohncrump, or at www.crumpy.com.