Virginia localities that opt to impose “gun-free zones” on public property potentially could be on the hook for millions of dollars in liability, if long-shot legislation proposed in the 2021 General Assembly session makes it into law.
Del. John McGuire III (R-Glen Allen) is patroning legislation that would remove blanket sovereign immunity for incidents that occur to “any injuries sustained by persons lawfully present” in areas designated firearm-free zones by the state government or any of its localities.
The recently arrived Democratic majority in Richmond last year allowed for such zones, and a number of localities across Virginia – including Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church – already have imposed them. Other municipalities statewide are thinking it over.
McGuire’s legislation would seem destined to fizzle out during the session, both because Democrats in charge of the legislature would be unlikely to back it and because Virginia, in general, is a state whose political subdivisions love to protect their authority to invoke sovereign immunity to limit exposure to lawsuits and other claims.
The legal term and theory behind it made the leap from Mother England to the American colonies centuries ago – the theory being that since the government reported only to the king and the king reported only to God, and since you most certainly can’t sue God, you’d better not think about suing the king or his government, either.
Colonists gave the heave-ho to King George III in 1776 but, particularly at the state- and local-government levels, American politicians have clung to sovereign immunity ever since (although there are limits to how it can be used).
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