By now, residents may be aware of a proposed resolution penciled on the Aug. 3 agenda of the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors (BOS) that aims to “reject local firearm regulatory authority.”
So what does this resolution do, and why is the issue being raised? Why now?
For starters, the draft resolution may be coming forward now because it is intended as a direct response to recent Virginia state gun control measures that took effect July 1.
Virginia gun control measures
In March, the majority Democratic Virginia state legislature voted to enact these five new gun control measures. The package of bills:
Require background checks on all firearm sales in the commonwealth;
Reinstate Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month rule to cut down on the stockpiling and trafficking;
Increase the penalty for gun owners who leave firearms in places where children can get them;
Establish legal procedures for temporarily removing firearms from those who present a danger to themselves or others;
Require gun owners to quickly report lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement.
But it is another new provision that is the center of recent attention. Section 15.2-915(E) of the Virginia code now grants localities the freedom to enact stricter gun controls as they see fit, and some municipalities, such as Richmond and Alexandria, have already taken action to pass legislation banning firearms from city property.
What is the statewide response?
In response, the Virginia Citizens’ Defense League (VCDL), a dogged lobbying organization which regards the possession of firearms as “a fundamental human right,” has launched a statewide “No Local Gun Control” campaign encouraging localities to declare that they do not intend to exercise their authority to enact further firearm regulations.
“We decided to put [a] resolution out there that [localities] can pass that says, yes, we now have that power but we’re not going to exercise it,” said Philip Van Cleave, VCDL president. “We’re not going to make a patchwork quilt of gun laws across the state for people to try to keep up with.”
The language proposed to the Rappahannock County BOS is a carbon copy of the resolution templates on VCDL’s website. If the supervisors pass it on Monday, Rappahannock will become the sixth county to do so since the beginning of the “No Local Gun Control” campaign.
But it is worth noting that though the resolution is declarative, it is essentially toothless — it is non-binding, and nothing in it prevents a future Board from changing course.
Resolution comes to Rappahannock
“We can take one of two approaches,” said Supervisor Keir Whitson of the Hampton District. “We could say nothing . . . that would be a quiet, somewhat passive but still practical way to basically disregard what the state has said. . . . But clearly it’s important to many people to make a symbolic statement that, not only are we not going to [enact our own controls], here’s why we’re not going to and here’s why we don’t believe it’s right for our community.”
The seven-paragraph draft resolution cites all the reasons why the BOS wishes to repudiate its right to declare its own gun laws, including the fact that it has heretofore declared itself a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.” In a number of places it also cites “the significant economic contribution made to our community by tourists and visitors” and expresses that the county “does not wish to discourage travel to Rappahannock County.”
Supervisor Whitson said he took issue with the draft’s emphasis on visitors and tourists, and is proposing alternative text that altogether removes mention of visitors and tourists.
“As a local representative, my obligation is to the approximately 1500 people who reside in the Hampton voting district,” Whitson said. The supervisor said as of Friday morning he has received upwards of 50 emails from people outside the county in support of the resolution.
“I am not simply going to accept or adopt something that has been imposed upon us by a state-level lobbying organization,” Whitson said. “So I really want this to be a local resolution that speaks to the interests of my constituents and that accomplishes basically the same thing as what Chair Smith has put forward, which is a symbolic resolution that says we won’t take any further actions to restrict citizens’ rights to carry firearms.”
In contrast, Chair Smith said she believes the language regarding tourists and travel is relevant.
“At the crux of this resolution is the idea of reciprocity,” Smith said. “Not only do we in Rappahannock say we are not going to . . . have any burdensome and capricious local laws, but we are extending that to people that should come to visit us and we would hope that when people from Rappahannock travel within the commonwealth that they would be extended the same courtesy.”
In a phone interview with the Rappahannock News, VCDL president Philip Van Cleave said something similar: “Gun owners tend not to want to go places where they’ve got to jump through a billion hoops to have their right to defend themselves . . . It makes things very inhospitable not only to the outside but to the people that live there.”
Why do gun owners travel with their firearms in the first place?
“You carry a gun for self defense. In the trunk of my car I’ve got a fire extinguisher, I don’t take it out because I’m going through Rappahannock, you know. I don’t take my seatbelt off when I go through Rappahannock. A firearm can be thought of as a safety device, it’s like a fire extinguisher or like a seatbelt, you know, you hope you never need it but you have it in case you do.”
The Board of Supervisors will discuss the resolution at its regularly scheduled Monday, Aug. 3 when it reconvenes at 7 p.m. in the Rappahannock County Elementary School gymnasium. You can also watch the meeting live at rappnews.com/video
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