GOP gubernatorial hopeful Corey Stewart attacked nomination rival Ed Gillespie on Monday at a pro-gun rally outside the state Capitol because Gillespie wasn’t there.

“I just saw him up there in the General Assembly Building. But did he even bother to show up and address you? He didn’t,” Stewart told a crowd of gun-rights backers gathered at the Bell Tower. “He sent somebody else — another politician — to come and talk to you. The guy’s afraid of his own shadow.”

Stewart, who was fired in October as Virginia chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign after taking part in an unauthorized protest outside the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, has tried to position himself as a Trump-style Republican running against Gillespie’s establishment brand of GOP politics.

Stewart attacks Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman, on Twitter and recently gave away an AR-15 rifle to raise attention to his campaign.

The politician who spoke for Gillespie was Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William. He said Gillespie is a supporter of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which organizes the rally annually, and would be accountable for his pro-Second Amendment positions.

“He will abolish all of Terry McAuliffe’s illegal executive orders dealing with our right to keep and bear arms,” Lingamfelter said. “He will oppose any effort to infringe on our Second Amendment right and he will use his veto pen when he needs to.”

Matt Moran, a spokesman for Gillespie’s campaign, said Gillespie committed to take part in an event at a church Monday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Day before he was invited to speak at the gun-rights rally and he did not want to break the church commitment.

“He appreciates VCDL President Phil Van Cleave understanding that, and allowing Delegate Scott Lingamfelter to share with the crowd Ed’s strong support of our Second Amendment rights.”

Rally organizers are pushing for constitutional carry in Virginia — or the ability to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. Del. Benjamin L. Cline, R-Rockbridge, is sponsoring such a bill. Similar legislation failed last year.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat and proponent of measures that he says combat gun violence, has vetoed GOP measures on guns. So while gun issues will be debated during the legislative session, proposed changes face an uncertain fate.

During last year’s session, McAuliffe did compromise with Republicans on several gun laws, agreeing to Virginia’s recognition of concealed handgun permits from all other states — a priority for gun-rights advocates known as reciprocity. In return, Republicans supported several bills backed by Democrats, including a measure aimed at stopping domestic abusers from possessing guns.

The deal overturned a prior action by Attorney General Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, stopping Virginia from recognizing concealed handgun permits from certain other states whose requirements for permits were not as strict as Virginia’s.

At a rally later in the day in the same spot, proponents of gun control called for peace and an end to gun violence.

Ma’at Ahmed, a seventh-grader at Binford Middle School in Richmond, read a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and said that even in 2017 his dream still hasn’t become reality.

“Wake up. Rise up. Let’s put aside barbaric behaviors and put action to his dream so all may live in a peaceful and fearless world,” she said. “Please, let’s put an end to gun violence.”

Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, and Herring, who is running for re-election, were among speakers.

“You know, we’re not out here being unreasonable,” Northam said. “All we’re asking — all we’re asking — is that we can live in communities, that we can work in communities, that we can play and that we can raise our children and have them to go to school to be in safe environments where they don’t have to worry about being the victims of gun violence. Is that too much to ask?”

“No!” the crowd replied.

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pwilson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6061

Twitter: @patrickmwilson

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