ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV/WVIR) — It wasn’t on Thursday night’s agenda, but people in Staunton came out to share their Second Amendment concerns with city leaders at the regularly scheduled city council meeting.
Staunton City Council meets on Dec. 12, 2019
An estimated 300 people filled council chambers and the first floor of City Hall in downtown Staunton on Thursday night – far more attendees than your average city council meeting, but significantly lower than the turnout of thousands at specially scheduled 'Second Amendment Sanctuary' hearings for local counties.
Many spoke both for and against Staunton passing a resolution to become a 'Second Amendment Sanctuary,' like Augusta County, which surrounds the city.
"I feel appalled that we are here discussing the rights of Americans. As a responsible gun owner, with a concealed weapon permit, it is my duty as a father and a husband to protect my family,” Ron Gilbert, who favors Second Amendment sanctuaries, said.
"You're going to be asked to declare that your law enforcement officers will refuse to uphold potential laws at the state of Virginia because some people may not like them. That is a dangerous breach of trust between law enforcement and Staunton citizens,” Allison Profeta, who opposes Second Amendment sanctuaries, said.
The city issued a statement last week saying the council is committed to upholding the U.S. and Virginia constitutions and the freedoms they guarantee, but Staunton is not scheduled to passing a resolution to designate themselves a 'Second Amendment Sanctuary.'
The Sheriff of the City of Staunton issued a public statement last week calling on members of their public to make their voices heard at this week's meeting.
By the time of the meeting Thursday night, much of the Shenandoah Valley, at least on the county level, had already passed resolutions declaring themselves Second Amendment Sanctuaries. The Rockingham County Board of Supervisors cast their unanimous vote Wednesday night.
The towns of Grottoes, Stanley, and Strasburg have also passed their own resolutions doing the same.
The most recent special hearing in Rockingham County drew over 3,000 people to Spotswood High School.
The movement of counties and/or towns and cities declaring themselves 'Second Amendment sanctuaries' – a conservative spin on 'sanctuary cities,' which vowed not to work with ICE to deport undocumented immigrants – began shortly after the election earlier this month in which Democrats won full control of the General Assembly for the first time in decades.
Many people in areas that voted along conservative lines believe that their constitutional rights may be threatened under a Democratic-controlled legislature, and supporters of the recent Second Amendment Sanctuary movement hope it will put political pressure on lawmakers in Richmond who will have to consider proposed gun laws in 2020.
A range of bills have been filed for Virginia's 2020 session, including SB 16, which would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor "to import, sell, barter, or transfer any firearm magazine designed to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition" and expand the definition of "assault firearm" under Virginia law, prohibiting anyone from possessing a gun that meets the new definition of "assault firearm." Possessing or transporting a gun under the new definition of an "assault firearm" would become a Class 6 felony.
Senate Bill 18 would raise the age for purchasing a firearm in Virginia to 21 and require mandatory background checks for any transfer of firearms, including private sales, instructing State Police to establish a process for people to obtain the background checks.
Other bills would put red flag laws into place.
To counter possible gun control laws, the concept of becoming a 'Second Amendment sanctuary' means that a county expresses its intent that its public funds not be used to restrict Second Amendment rights.
According to the resolution passed in Rockingham County, for instance, the Board of Supervisors "expresses its continuing intent to uphold, support and defend all rights protected and guaranteed by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Constitution of the United States."
The resolutions aren't legally binding, and any challenge that would result to laws passed next year would go to the courts, but the resolutions put forth a public stance on behalf of counties' or cities' citizens.
When it comes to partisanship, Staunton is an exception to much of the Shenandoah Valley. In our most recent 2019 election, every county in the Valley voted heavily Republican in all races. The city of Harrisonburg voted on a solidly Democratic line. But in Staunton, of the two races up for election, voters cast more ballots for a Republican in one of the races and more for a Democrat in another.