Leaders in two Richmond suburbs have voted this week on resolutions in response to a growing demand across Virginia for local governments to declare they are “sanctuaries” that will not infringe on residents’ gun rights under the Second Amendment.
The Hanover County Board of Supervisors’ adoption Wednesday of a modified “sanctuary” resolution was loudly cheered by many of the several hundred people in attendance, but a resolution passed a day earlier by Henrico County’s supervisors made no mention of gun rights, disappointing dozens of people who had sought a stronger stance in the face of possible legislation in the upcoming Virginia General Assembly.
In Chesterfield County, hundreds of people attended the county’s Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday to advocate for the adoption of a sanctuary resolution. The board declined to do so.
In all three localities, fire marshals had to cut off access to the boardrooms because there were too many people and the rooms were at capacity.
After Democrats won majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly in November’s elections, approximately 70 Virginia localities have adopted resolutions declaring themselves a “sanctuary” for gun owners or promising to oppose potential gun control legislation, according to the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights advocacy group.
The group has been encouraging localities to adopt its model resolution that says local governments will refuse to enforce any new laws that could be considered unconstitutional.
On Wednesday, Hanover supervisors voted 5-1 to adopt a resolution vowing to oppose any legislative efforts that would appear to violate the Second Amendment. Supervisor Faye Prichard, the board’s only Democrat, voted against the resolution. Supervisor Angela Kelly-Wiecek was absent.
In Henrico on Tuesday, the board’s two Democratic supervisors, Chairman Tyrone Nelson and Frank Thornton, voted against a resolution supporting the Constitution. The measure was introduced by Supervisor Pat O’Bannon, surprising some of her colleagues.
Several Hanover supervisors debated over the board’s exclusion of the word “sanctuary.” Henrico supervisors also avoided using the term, one that some government officials worry could be interpreted as an intent to subvert state law and judicial processes.
In recent weeks, Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and other Democrats in local and state government have tried to allay fears about the party’s push for new gun safety laws after 12 people were killed in a mass shooting in Virginia Beach in May.
“I hear people have said ... they don’t want law enforcement to enforce unconstitutional laws,” Northam said this week. “We’re not going to propose or pass unconstitutional laws.”
Speaking to the large audience gathered at Hanover’s board meeting Wednesday, Supervisor Scott Wyatt — who will become a state lawmaker next month after being elected to the House of Delegates — challenged Northam’s assertion that restricting access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines would save lives.
“The premise of this [resolution] is the fear of what could come out of the General Assembly,” Wyatt said. “We know that it would affect law-abiding citizens’ right to bear arms and own weapons that might have larger-capacity clips ... or that might be scary to some individuals. That’s not right.”
“If legislators want to get tough, they need to get tough on crime and drug activity right here in the Richmond area.”
Unlike the model resolution being shared around the state, Hanover’s resolution does not include language about directing local law enforcement to not enforce laws that could be considered unconstitutional.
Instead, the resolution vows that the board will “oppose and challenge, to the full extent of the law, any and all efforts” to infringe on citizens’ constitutional rights, including to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment, “except though the amendment process as prescribed” in the Constitution.
“I feel this language is stronger than declaring sanctuary,” Wyatt said.
Supervisor Aubrey “Bucky” Stanley said nearly every constituent who has contacted him in recent weeks asked specifically for the board to declare Hanover a “sanctuary,” using a term that gun rights supporters have borrowed from the “sanctuary city” movement, whose supporters oppose prosecuting and deporting immigrants who are living in the country illegally.
“I agree that it appears to be strong language … but Democrats are not afraid to use ‘sanctuary,’” Stanley said. “I’m just wondering why we are.”
After Wyatt explained at Wednesday’s meeting that he had drafted the resolution in a way to win consensus among his colleagues, Supervisor Wayne Hazzard, who is retiring from the board this month, explained that claiming sanctuary could lead to a “slippery slope” and give people the impression that the county can selectively enforce state law.
At Henrico’s Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, about 150 people called on the county’s leaders to adopt a sanctuary resolution.
After Republican Supervisor Pat O’Bannon surprised some of her colleagues with a resolution simply stating that the county would swear to uphold the Constitution, the measure was adopted by a 3-2 vote along party lines after an approximately 15-minute debate.
The resolution does not explicitly reference guns or the Second Amendment, or opposition to potential legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session.
“I don’t remember someone ever putting forth a resolution and not having shared it with any colleagues beforehand,” said Supervisor Frank Thornton, a Democrat who was first elected alongside O’Bannon in 1995. “I’m not saying that can’t be done, but I’m a little baffled by that.”
On Tuesday, as Henrico’s recently elected officials were preparing to take the oath of office and swear to uphold the U.S and Virginia constitutions the following afternoon, Chairman Tyrone Nelson questioned why the resolution was necessary.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “Other than to appease this crowd, what is the point of this resolution?”
Replied O’Bannon: “That is the point of this resolution: that we will be taking this oath ... to uphold the Constitution.”
In her comments during the meeting and in an interview afterward, O’Bannon emphasized that she had intended to reach “consensus” among her colleagues in response to public demand.
“It may be redundant and repetitive, but I think it’s important that we leave here with this agreement,” she said during the meeting.
Although O’Bannon’s resolution received modest applause after it was approved, several peopled yelled at the supervisors who voted against it. At least one person in the crowd called the opposing supervisors “traitors.”
As tensions began to boil, Supervisor Tommy Branin asked law enforcement officers to clear the room. The meeting went into a brief recess, and most of the audience left in an orderly fashion without further disruption.
Several people said afterward that they were displeased with the board’s action.
“People aren’t here for resolutions. ... We want to confirm on the record where they stand,” Henrico resident Daniel Edwards said in an interview. “If [the resolution] doesn’t say it full-throatedly, then what’s the point?”
In Chesterfield on Wednesday, resident Daniel Roddy was among those who came to urge supervisors to approve a resolution designating the county as a Second Amendment sanctuary.
“I know that it’s clearly symbolic and it holds no weight against the state legislation, but [a resolution] sends a message that we’re not willing to stand for something that’s corrupt,” Roddy said before the meeting.
Leslie Haley, the chair of the Board of Supervisors, told the crowd that the supervisors would not take action on the matter but would listen to public comment. About a dozen people addressed the supervisors at the sometimes heated meeting, with speakers equally split between supporters and opponents of a resolution.
Haley said: “We have been contacted by so very many of you and realize that any actions we might consider only serve to further possibly divide the community and give you no protections as to any possible actions that state or federal legislators might take.”
People in the crowd were upset with supervisors’ refusal to vote on a resolution. Some raised their voices at the board members, demanding repeatedly that they vote.
Outgoing Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle, one of four Republicans on the board, told the crowd that she is an “absolute gun rights supporter.” She urged gun rights supporters to be politically active, adding that the state level is where gun laws are made.
“I look forward to seeing you all actively engaged in the future,” Jaeckle said. “I will be calling you to help elect the right politicians at a state level to get the laws that we want.”
Resident Chip Bradshaw noted that localities across the state have passed Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions.
“With this tyrannical state government that is now governing over us, they want to make criminals out of all of us law-abiding citizens just because of the type of weapons we choose to own, and that is unacceptable,” he said.