ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — Amid a wave of counties and cities across Virginia voting to designate themselves 'Second Amendment sanctuaries,' the Sheriff of the City of Staunton is calling on citizens to attend the city's upcoming city council meeting to make their voices heard.
Earlier this week, Page County, with a unanimous vote, became the first county in the Shenandoah Valley to approve such a resolution, joining at least 30 other localities that have taken the step since last month's elections.
The following day, Augusta County did the same, with a unanimous vote at a hearing that drew over 1,500 people to a county high school
Similar meetings of other Virginia county boards have shattered attendance records, bringing out hundreds or thousands of people, even in counties with very low populations.
While Staunton City Council hasn't officially scheduled a public hearing on a proposed resolution to become a 'Second Amendment Sanctuary,' the Staunton City Sheriff's Office made a public Facebook post on Friday afternoon.
To clarify, the Staunton City Sheriff's Office is a separate entity from the Staunton Police Department. The police department handles most standard law enforcement work in the city, while the sheriff's office handles court security, serving warrants, transporting prisoners, and enforcing civil law.
"In the wake of numerous calls, text messages and constituents coming to see me regarding a possible 2nd Amendment Sanctuary movement in Staunton and my participation in such, I wanted to take the time to respond and give my stance on the matter," the post from the sheriff's office read.
"I know by the questions I have received, there are many of you concerned about the laws that have been drafted in Richmond, imposing restrictions on certain guns, gun related items and even the possibility of taking certain guns from people that already have them in their possession. While this is understandably upsetting to a large portion of the population, I want everyone to know that I and the members of the Staunton Sheriff’s Office will continue to protect and defend the Constitution of this great country and state. Even though I am the Sheriff for the city and will assure you that I will defend the Constitution, I am not the only law enforcement agency within the city. The final determination of whether or not the City of Staunton becomes a sanctuary for the 2nd Amendment lies solely on the shoulders of Staunton City Council. Therefore, I encourage ALL city residents to come and voice your opinion just as city and county residents have done throughout our Commonwealth."
The Facebook post then went on to encourage everyone to attend the next Staunton City Council meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. on the first floor of City Hall at 116 W. Beverley St.
Due to the sizes of crowds, counties considering Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions have moved special meetings to large facilities like high schools. However, since this isn't a specially designated hearing on the matter, it's unclear if this meeting will be moved.
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.
Not many bills have been filed for Virginia's 2020 session yet, but one gun control bill has been proposed by a Democrat that's created a stir on social media: 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, instructing State Police to establish a process for people to obtain the background checks.
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.
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.
Chairman Davis, with Dinwiddie County, which adopted one of the measures, explicitly said their resolution doesn't mean they'll ignore state law.
“We’re not saying ‘No, we’re not going to stand by the law’ or ‘This county isn’t going to stand by the law.' Wrong. Absolutely wrong. We stand firm on the Second Amendment, we believe we have the right to bear arms.”
However, other Republican leaders, like Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, have called for resolutions that would prohibit law enforcement from enforcing any new state gun laws.
Democrat leaders say the concept of a Second Amendment Sanctuary is unnecessary.
"If you look at what we're doing, I don't think it infringes on anybody's Second Amendment rights," said State Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke).
Edwards said if people want to challenge legislation passed by the General Assembly, the remedy is to go to court.
"I think people are being paranoid and it's totally unnecessary," Edwards told WDBJ7.
Delegate Chris Head (R-Botetourt) has a different view.
"I think this may be a case in which it is justifiable to be concerned, and so that's not paranoia, that's concern," Head said Wednesday afternoon. "The United States Constitution is incredibly clear and unambiguous when it says the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Period. And I think what you're seeing is localities simply wanting to make sure the rest of my colleagues in Richmond understand."
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.