With Democrats slated to have control of the Virginia General Assembly starting next year and with Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam having already proposed a variety of gun-regulation bills, many rural Virginia localities are responding by declaring themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries.”
During a scheduled work session today, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors will vote on whether or not to also declare the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary. Four supervisors — Ronald Scearce, Westover; Ben Farmer, Staunton River; Charles Miller, Banister; and Tim Barber, Tunstall — said they plan to pass the resolution.
Scearce, who proposed the resolution, said county leadership wants to show their stance in supporting the peoples’ rights to bear arms.
“I really don’t know how much this will do to help the situation, but I think that it’s important that we send a message back to Gov. Northam and the General Assembly,” Scearce said.
The resolution is not legally binding, but it does express the county’s “intent that public funds of the County not be used to restrict Second Amendment rights” and their intention “to oppose unconstitutional restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms through such legal means as may be expedient, including without limitation, court action.”
Pittsylvania County Attorney Vaden Hunt could not be reached for comment concerning the legal repercussions that could come from this resolution.
The language of the resolution was developed by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a nonprofit that aims to ensure Virginians have the right to bear arms. Group president Philip Van Cleave could not be reached for comment on this story.
Charlotte County, Campbell County and Carroll County already have passed resolutions to become Second Amendment sanctuaries, while several other localities will consider the topic in government meetings in upcoming weeks.
After steady growth in permits granted since 2015, the Pittsylvania County Circuit Court office issued 1,809 concealed carry permits in 2018, a record number for the county, according to numbers from the clerk’s office. That translates to about 1 in 8 county residents currently having a concealed carry permit.
Clerk of Court Mark Scarce said election years tend to have more applications for concealed carry permits. In a recent, pre-election survey, The Washington Post found 75% of Virginia voters believe gun policy is a “very important” factor for their vote in the Virginia legislature.
Sheriff Mike Taylor could not be reached for comment for his thoughts on the resolution, but he previously told the Danville Register & Bee the number of residents who own guns and have concealed carry permits does not concern him or his deputies.
“If a criminal thinks they require a gun, they’re not concerned about the law,” he said. “They’re going to have access to guns, they’re going to get guns without concern for the consequences.”
One concern for Pittsylvania Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Haskins is Northam has expressed support for allowing local governments to pass their own local gun regulation laws, overriding Dillon’s Rule — a law that prevents localities from passing laws without the approval of the state legislature.
If passed, this could create a “balkinization” — or fragmentation into smaller, potentially even hostile regions — of gun laws, Haskins said.
Barber said he plans to vote in favor of the resolution.
“I think it’s symbolic. … I think it shows a message that the county believes in gun ownership,” he said.
Banister Supervisor Charles Miller also said he supports the Second Amendment and plans to vote in favor of the resolution.
“There are many many responsible gun owners in the country, in the county,” he said.
Supervisors Joe Davis, Elton Blackstock and Bob Warren could not be reached for this story.
“I don’t know what the best tactic to go is, but you certainly can’t go after the weapons,” Scearce said. “None of those [regulations] are going to stop a criminal.”
Leading up to the recent elections, many Democratic candidates campaigned they would pass stricter gun regulations. In recent years, Northam has proposed several bills killed in the General Assembly, including requiring background checks for all firearms transactions, banning assault weapons and bump stocks, restoring a law that limits people to one gun purchase a month and enacting “red flag laws” that would allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate guns from anyone determined to be a danger, either to themselves or to others.
Eight “common sense” gun regulation bills were proposed for a special legislative session in July in the aftermath of a May mass shooting in Virginia Beach that resulted in 12 deaths, but the then-Republican controlled General Assembly shut it down after just 90 minutes.
Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.