With their majority soon reaching its end, Republican leaders of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors are pressing ahead with a vote that would proclaim the county a so-called “Second Amendment sanctuary.”
Board Chairman Corey Stewart introduced a resolution Tuesday that follows the example of more rural Virginia counties. The non-binding resolution would oppose expected efforts in the state legislature next year to put added restrictions on gun owners and firearm sales.
The board will consider the resolution in its meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m.
With a chuckle, Stewart said he’d hoped the board’s last meeting of the year would be “very quiet” and “non-contentious.” He then presented his resolution to the board, modeled after those approved in more than two dozen other localities in the state.
After years of being stonewalled by GOP leaders in the legislature, gun law reforms are expected to have a much better chance of success next year due to Democrats winning majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. Potential firearms restrictions were one of the biggest campaign topics in November’s election.
Although no formal opinion has been issued on the validity of “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions, even supporters suggest it’s largely ceremonial and not enforceable. In Prince William, it also would likely be short-lived.
That’s because the new year will also usher in new Democratic leadership, with the board of supervisors shifting from a 6-2 Republican majority to a 5-3 Democratic majority when new members take their oaths in early January.
In a statement Monday, Chair-elect Ann Wheeler, a Democrat, said the sanctuary resolution appears to be in protest to election results as Democrats ran on a promise to address gun safety in Virginia.
“I want to be clear — any efforts by the outgoing board to hamper the enforcement of gun safety legislation passed in Virginia will be immediately repealed when the new board takes office in January,” she said. “Change has come to Prince William County. The residents voted and the board will reflect their voice.”
According to a recent statewide poll, public opinion doesn’t appear to be with Stewart on the issue. The results from the Roanoke College survey released this week found broad support for increasing background checks on gun sales (84% favor) and support for court orders taking away guns if it’s believed an owner would harm themselves (76% favor). A majority also favored a ban on the sale of assault rifles (57% favor).
Since the election, gun owners have pressed the Prince William board to take a stand — during a Nov. 26 meeting, they wore bright orange stickers that read “Guns save lives.” Speakers claim their gun rights are enshrined in the state and U.S. constitutions.
The Second Amendment states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Support for the amendment has been the bedrock of many challenges to gun law reforms on the state and national levels.
At the board meeting Tuesday, public comments were split between supporters and opponents of the proposed resolution.
“What worries me is taking away ‘we the people’s’ rights of gun ownership,” said Manassas-area resident Bill Gary.
Joan Cantor, one of several volunteers wearing “Moms Demand Action” T-shirts, said she doesn’t want to see a precedent set of allowing local counties to decide which state laws they should enforce.
“I think many of us can come together and say, whatever the laws are, we should follow them,” she said.
Stewart said he is doing what he thinks is right.
“Unfortunately, in pre-file legislation in the General Assembly, there’s a number of bills that would curb Second Amendment rights in Virginia, and obviously people are really concerned about that,” Stewart told InsideNoVa. “I was surprised at the level of very vocal concerns that were expressed … and obviously that these ‘Second Amendment sanctuary’ resolutions have been popping up all over the state.”
Indeed, Rappahannock and Culpeper county’s boards of supervisors approved “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions Monday and Tuesday, joining the other localities.
Brentsville resident John Lane said at the meeting that he understood the resolution would be largely symbolic and easily overturned in January.
Nevertheless, he added, “I think it’s a statement worth making.”