With the new Democratic majority in the state legislature aiming toward greater gun restrictions, Virginia’s conservative jurisdictions are resorting to four Ps: panic, politicking, posturing and pandering.
The result is a nascent “Second Amendment Sanctuary” movement that oddly borrows its nomenclature from the left-leaning effort in cities to provide a safe haven for undocumented immigrants.
As a legal and practical matter, this new movement has no bullets in its chamber. But that hasn’t stopped supervisors from passing resolutions from Appomattox to King William to Powhatan. Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties might also take up this matter before Democrats take control of the General Assembly in January.
Remember that surge of gun buying amid fears that then-President Barack Obama was “coming for our guns?”
The U.S. still has more guns than people.
“The push for this is a panic about the change in state government, and I don’t intend to get caught up in that,” said Faye Prichard, the Ashland District representative and lone Democrat on the Hanover Board of Supervisors.
Virginia Democrats, with memories of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach still fresh, intend to seek universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons to include suppressors and bump stocks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and the restoration of the state law—repealed in 2012—restricting handgun purchases to one a month.
The response, at times, has been unsubtle, if not irresponsible.
“Our first line of defense is to stop these laws from getting passed,” said Bedford County supervisor John Sharp. “In January, we need to show them a crowd like they have never seen. They need to be afraid and they should be afraid.”
Gov. Ralph Northam also wants to allow localities to regulate firearms within their jurisdictions—to include banning them in government buildings.
Last summer, at Mayor Levar Stoney’s behest, Richmond passed a symbolic but toothless gun control ordinance after 9-year-old Markiya Dickson of Chesterfield was killed during gunfire in Carter Jones Park.
When Republicans controlled the legislature, Richmond’s pleas went unheard.
Virginia is a Dillon Rule state. The Dillon Rule limits the decision-making of localities, giving local governing bodies powers only specifically granted in the state code.
Perhaps, if Virginia’s cities, towns and counties had sought more common ground instead of constantly surrendering it to partisan considerations, state hegemony and the almighty influence of lobbyists, they’d all be better off.
“For years, Richmond and other cities in the commonwealth have asked General Assembly leaders representing these communities for local exceptions to stem the bloodshed in their backyards, only to see their life and death concerns dismissed in NRA bought-and-sold subcommittee votes,” Stoney said in an email Monday.
“Now the leaders of these communities are asking for exceptions so they’re not ‘harmed’ by commonsense gun reform? This is the height of hypocrisy. And frankly, the secessionist talk is over the top,” he said.
Richmond is not Appomattox County, a rural Piedmont area locale with a population of about 16,000. But lax gun regulation and Confederate monument protection are just two examples of the state’s one-size-fits-all imposition on its localities.
“There is a long tradition of cities, towns and other local governments stating their disagreement with state law,” said University of Virginia law professor Richard Schragger. “These declarations are mostly symbolic, but they do have a political purpose. They are ways for certain interest groups to signal opposition through local officials.”
But Schragger—whose focus includes the intersection of constitutional law and local government law, federalism and urban policy—adds that “as a legal matter, these declarations do not have much effect. The Second Amendment has not been read to prevent the kinds of gun regulations that the General Assembly is currently considering. These proposed gun laws can coexist with the Second Amendment and the county declarations do not say otherwise.”
Perhaps if the individual jurisdictions had been more empathetic toward each other, acknowledged their differences and adopted a live-and-let-live philosophy, rural Virginia wouldn’t have to resort to this collective temper tantrum.
“I think this is a nice example of why Virginia’s elected officials might want to reconsider the absence of home rule in the commonwealth. When cities wanted more authority to regulate guns, the Republican General Assembly denied them that authority,” said Schragger, who notes that Virginia is one of the few states that does not embrace constitutional home rule.
“That situation is now flipped. Perhaps both parties will see a benefit to more local authority across a whole range of policies than Dillon’s Rule currently provides.”
Perhaps Virginia’s jurisdictions should consider another “P”—partnership—in gaining greater local control for their mutual benefit.