Once again, Roanoke City Council shoots down Second Amendment Sanctuary

Published: Dec. 17, 2019 at 3:13 PM EST
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Monday night, Roanoke City Council rejected the idea of becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary. This is the second time the city council has done so.

It also marks the second time gun rights activists have packed council chambers. In total, about 150 people attended Monday's meeting, with 19 speaking at the podium. Of those, almost all were in favor of Second Amendment sanctuary status.

Many of the speakers expressed frustration with the council's unwillingness to do what more than 60 local governments across Virginia have in the last month and a half.

"Mental health care, not gun control, needs to be the focus of Roanoke and Virginia," said one speaker. Others called on the council to remember their oaths of office. One man warned of a coming civil war.

Bill Bestpitch was the only member of council to respond to the crowd.

"We already have what you're asking for," he said. "The US Constitution is the supreme law of the land. We all agree on that."

During his speech, he was frequently interrupted by shouts and jeers from the crowd.

At the end of the evening, Mayor Sherman Lea asked if any member of council wanted to move forward with a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution. When none replied, Lea declared "this issue dies," and adjourned the meeting.

The decision makes the city a rare holdout in Southwest Virginia, where Second Amendment sanctuary status is near universal.

The movement began shortly after the November elections when Democrats took control of the state government. Many of the newly-elected officials had run on platforms of gun control, and Gov. Ralph Northam was quick to make it a top priority for the new legislature.

That set off a wave of cities and counties declaring themselves "Second Amendment sanctuaries." Gun rights groups, like the Virginia Citizens Defense League, sent out draft resolutions, and encouraged supporters to contact their elected representatives.

However, the term "Second Amendment Sanctuary" has no legal meaning. In some other states, the resolutions forbid local officials from providing money or support for new gun control legislation.

In Virginia, localities are forbidden from passing their own gun control laws. As a result, the resolutions passed carry no legal weight, and don't force anyone - citizen, lawmaker or otherwise - to do anything.

Supporters say that's not the point. Instead, the goal is sending a message to Richmond that any gun control legislation passed in January will be fiercely resisted.

Monday night, after Mayor Sherman Lea gaveled the city council meeting closed, gun rights activists vowed to fight on. Some in the audience screamed that the council is "a joke" and "treasonous." Others simply stood up, and walked out the door.

Monday night, Pulaski County passed a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution, and early Tuesday morning, after several hours of discussion, Montgomery County passed a resolution to support the Second Amendment, but stopped short of calling it a sanctuary county.

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