In a crowd where hundreds of men had semi-automatic weapons slung casually around their necks, and pistols in holsters at their side, one man told me this was the “safest place on earth”. You wouldn’t want to argue.
Thousands of gun owners had gathered in Richmond, Virginia in a show of armed strength directed at a Democratic governor who they claim is intent on infringing their constitutional right to bear arms.
Tensions have escalated in the days leading up to the protest because Governor Ralph Northam claimed there was intelligence to indicate that extremists and militias were intending to cause trouble.
He declared a state of emergency which banned weapons being brought into the grounds of the state capitol.
A fence was erected around the building and those wanting to enter were searched.
But outside that cordon there were enough weapons to wage a war.
It’s perfectly legal to carry a weapon openly on the streets of Virginia, though it’s rare to see civilians dressed like the military and heavily armed in large numbers in the centre of the city.
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The crowd was overwhelmingly white men. But Tammy Lee, one of the organisers of the demonstration, who had her sidearm in a holster, told me that the governor had over-reacted to try to persuade people to stay away.
Whether he was right or wrong, the dire warning did mean supporters of his gun reforms were neither seen nor heard, and with no one to argue with, those with weapons were disciplined and well-behaved.
They were almost all friendly and chatty to the Sky News crew.
Only one group of around a dozen men asked not to be filmed as they emerged from a minibus and put on their combat gear.
There were chants of “guns save lives” and “we will not comply”.
It’s one thing to restrict new ownership of guns, quite another to take away existing weapons. But despite an impressive turnout, opinion polls suggest a majority of Virginians support some restrictions.
While Richmond is historically conservative and was the capital of the Confederate states in the American Civil War, the north of Virginia borders Washington DC and liberal-minded voters helped elect Democrats to run the state government.
The tension between north and south, reformers and gun owners, won’t change. But on this occasion, the culture clash did not lead to violence.