As Virginia lawmakers consider changes to gun regulation policies, localities in the Historic Triangle are discussing becoming “sanctuary counties.”
Recently, Democrats in the General Assembly have earned majorities in the Senate and House of Delegates when it comes to pushing new progressive legislation such as gun control policies.
Earlier this month, Gov. Ralph Northam announced his plans to reintroduce eight bills that regulate guns. Some of these include background check requirements, bans on assault weapons and allows law enforcement officials to “separate” a person from a firearm if they exhibit dangerous behavior.
“You should be concerned with those bills as soon as they show up,” said Thomas Sheppard, chairman of the York County Board of Supervisors, during a recent meeting. “Because this board has run into problems where the General Assembly has snuck things in around us and all of the sudden it gets through.”
As a result localities across the state have responded by proposing to become 2nd Amendment sanctuaries. What this means is that localities are promoting themselves as areas that oppose any infringement on Constitutional rights, such as certain gun regulations.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a nonprofit that aims to protect the right to bear arms, is one of the organizations pushing for these 2nd Amendment sanctuary cities, which it defines as “any locality that says it will not enforce any unconstitutional (federal or state) gun laws,” according to the organizations website.
“I think it’s just political posture and fear-mongering,” said Richard Schragger, a professor of Constitutional law at the University of Virginia. “The Supreme Court has not ruled that [these regulations] are a violation of the Second Amendment and has in fact left the door open for these kinds of regulations.”
James City County and York County are also considering resolutions to become sanctuary counties.
The James City County Board of Supervisors will discuss Tuesday becoming a sanctuary county and York County will discuss a resolution to become a “Constitutional County” on Dec. 17, according to the localities’ websites.
The resolution for both York and James City counties states the localities will declare “its intent to oppose any infringement on constitutional rights of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.”
Schragger said Virginia is a Dillon’s Rule state, which means it is one of the few states that doesn’t provide the state constitution a general grant of authority to local governments. This doesn’t provide them with a broad authority to act in various arenas and that any regulations from local governments have to be authorized by the state legislature.
So, even if these counties resolve to become sanctuary localities, it doesn’t necessarily grant them any particular authority.
“It doesn’t mean anything legally,” he said. “First of all, the state has not adopted any gun regulations, so there’s nothing for these declarations to act on as of yet. Secondly, even if the state does [pass the regulations], local people will still have to comply with those laws, whatever the local government says about them.”
Schragger said the resolutions are more a political expression to support gun rights and influence legislative debate than providing any actual legal “sanctuary.”
“Simply declaring yourself a second amendment city does not allow people to ignore state law,” he said.
Still, the topic has become one of keen interest especially in James City County. For the Tuesday meeting, the public comment portion has been shortened to one minute per person because so many people have expressed interest in commenting, said Jason Purse, assistant county administrator in James City County.
“In terms of what this means moving forward, I don’t know,” Purse said. “I think there are a lot of unknowns still, so we’ll just have to find out what happens next week.”
The James City County Board of Supervisors meeting will be Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the County Government Center Board Room.