Dozens of people stood out in the rain, while dozens more packed inside just to speak and watch York County Supervisors sign a resolution Tuesday night.
Applause followed as it became evident York is now a “Constitutional County.”
It was a declaration a majority of the speakers had sought for.
“These are important issues that require tough action,” said Thomas Sheppard, chairman of the York County Board of Supervisors. “You need to make noise now, and I totally agree with the fact that you don’t wait [until] a bill is passed before you get out there and say stuff…It’s time to make the noise and you’ve been doing that successfully.”
The resolution passed 4-1, with the only objection from Supervisor Sheila Noll. The resolution was originally proposed during the Dec. 3 work session of the Board of Supervisors as a response to a growing movement across Virginia.
“I am torn because yes I agree with what you’re saying, I support your 2nd Amendment and gun rights” Noll said. “[But] I disagree with the process. This resolution came too soon and fast for legal vetting for any ramifications…The courts have to decide whether it’s constitutional or not— courts not counties.”
Recently, localities across the state have been passing resolutions that aim to make themselves sanctuaries from new legislation that requires stricter firearms regulations.
According to published reports, 76 out of 95 counties, nine out of 38 independent cities, and 13 towns have adopted some kind of similar resolutions – some using the word sanctuary, some reaffirmation and others Constitutional counties, cities.
Gov. Ralph Northam has announced his plans to reintroduce eight bills that regulate guns, including requirements for universal background checks and bans on assault weapons.
Democrats will hold the majority in both the Senate and House of Delegates, which has given some residents serious concern the bills will be passed and infringe on their constitutional rights.
As a result, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a nonprofit that aims to protect the right to bear arms, started a movement to push localities to declare themselves as a “2nd Amendment sanctuary locality.” The organization defines this as“ any locality that says it will not enforce any unconstitutional (federal or state) gun laws,” according to the organizations website.
York County chose to call itself a “Constitutional County” instead of using the word “sanctuary.” During the meeting, Supervisor Walter Zaremba said part of the reasoning behind this was so that it wouldn’t be confused with sanctuary cities aimed at providing refuge to illegal immigrants.
There have been a few areas locally that have passed similar resolutions, including Gloucester County and Isle of Wight. On Dec. 10, James City County voted instead to “reaffirm” its commitment to the U.S. and state constitutions instead of declaring itself a sanctuary locality.
York County’s resolution explains that the new laws could infringe on citizens’ constitutional rights.
“The Board of Supervisors hereby declares its intent to oppose any infringement on the constitutional rights of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms,” the resolution states.
During the meeting, 65 residents came forward to present their stance on the matter, with 54 in support of the resolution and only 11 against it.
“The police can not always be there on time,” said Dennis Ivey, a captain with the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office. “It is our God-given right to defend our God-given life, although this message is only symbolic we must stand up to Richmond to defend our God-given right.”
Many speakers seemed to be aware the resolution is mainly symbolic as a way to send a message to Richmond. This was reiterated by the supervisors who encouraged residents to take their concerns to the General Assembly in Richmond.
The recent resolutions don’t necessarily mean residents in a locality are not subject to state laws, said Richard Schragger, a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Virginia. Schragger said the resolutions are more of a political move for localities to send a message to legislators that they support gun rights.
County Attorney James Barnett said he had been asked by Board members whether or not the municipality can sue the state to declare a law unconstitutional and that, to the best of his knowledge, it was not possible. However, individuals and organizations have that power.
While most of the speakers and the supervisors approved the resolution, there were still those that were opposed to the idea.
However, it seemed many speakers and supervisors wanted to address the issue of voter turnout in relation to this movement.
Sheppard noted that in York County’s last election, 50.1 percent of registered voters did not vote and that greater turnout could’ve changed representation in the General Assembly. For now, Sheppard said the county and residents should be concerned about these bills before they are passed into law.