WOODSTOCK – Dozens of speakers fearful of losing rights to own firearms as a result of an impending political shift in state government urged Shenandoah County supervisors Tuesday to make the area a “sanctuary” for gun owners.
More than 1,000 people converged at the government center for the Board of Supervisors meeting during which members discussed a proposed resolution to designate Shenandoah County as a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County.” All those who spoke live in Shenandoah County, based on the addresses they gave to the supervisors.
Speakers voiced fear that the state could confiscate their firearms given that Democrats take control of the House of Delegates and the Senate in January. Party leaders have indicated they intend to push legislation aimed at preventing gun-related violence. Republicans have vowed to fight such legislation.
Fire Marshal David Ferguson said after the meeting that he estimated more than 1,000 people gathered at the government center. The board room can hold only approximately 150 people so the rest of the crowd had to stand outside the government center during the meeting. Vice Chairman John R. “Dick” Neese went down each row and allowed anyone to speak during the public comment period. As people who wanted to speak did so, they were asked to step out of the building and Ferguson allowed more attendees inside the board room to take their turn at the podium.
Supervisors made comments about the resolution before members of the public took their turn. District 3 Supervisor Richard Walker brought the proposed resolution to the board, on behalf of his successor, Bradley Pollack, for members’ consideration. Walker pointed out that the board generally does have the ability to override state law, though supervisors do approve the inclusion of state regulations into the county code. The board also needs to determine where the county’s sheriff and commonwealth’s attorney stand on the matter, Walker said. Supervisors also need to decide on the appropriate wording for the resolution, Walker added.
“I think we want to look at the resolution, not in a partisan way but in one that is general, that is positive and it speaks directly to what our purpose is,” Walker said. “ ... I think we have to consider what the consequences are, both of the laws that are being proposed and of our enacting a resolution to basically show our support for what we feel are rights that should not be infringed, and what the ramifications those consequences, both intended and unintended, what they’re going to be.”
District 4 Supervisor Karl Roulston spoke about the resolution, the language of which he called spot on.
“I don’t think we can get through the night without mentioning gun violence at some point,” Roulston said. “I don’t know anybody who supports gun violence. That’s not a party-specific thing.”
Shenandoah County remains ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting its children because the sheriff has school resource officers assigned to each of its schools, Roulston said.
“It doesn’t solve the problem, but that gives us an edge that a lot of counties, a lot of states don’t do,” Roulston said. “So, from a parent perspective, I think we rest a little easier knowing we have that there and we owe it to the sheriff a thank you.”
The supervisor said he doesn’t think it’s premature for the board to consider the resolution. Roulston said at least eight bills are queued up for discussion in the next General Assembly session.
“So that’s not a could happen, that’s happening, and I think that this resolution’s a nice way of letting our legislators know what Shenandoah County feels, what Shenandoah County believes in and whether that’s gonna help or not — we don’t need to go to Richmond to lean there, too,” Roulston said.
“I didn’t think that we could not state that we are concerned with gun violence in this nation, and we would like our legislators to do something reasonable and pragmatic about that,” Roulston said. “Now, and I cross my fingers and hope that they can do it, but I think it’s important to send the message that we want it addressed.
“ I think the rest of the resolution identifies that we don’t want it addressed at the expense of law-abiding gun owners,” Roulston went on to say.
District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris did not say where he stood on the resolution. Board members would not take action on the resolution until a future meeting, which gives anyone who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting time to contact their supervisors about the topic, Morris said.
“You know tonight’s not your last hurrah,” Morris said.
District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker said the crowd was the largest turnout for a meeting he’s seen in his time on the board.
“I was elected by the people and I’ll go and say I support the resolution,” Baker said. “Now, how we go about it, some things could have to be worked out. But, here again, I support it and we hope that everything will work out and we continue to be a good, rural area because you citizens here are law-abiding and, yes, as Karl said, we do have some problems and we do want to address those. Gun violence. But we need to have our Second Amendment, bottom line.”
Neese said he sent questions to Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, about the resolution. Neese said he asked how passing the resolution would affect law enforcement or state funding for other county departments.
County Administrator Evan Vass said the board could hold a special meeting in December to consider action on the resolution. A couple of speakers criticized the board for not holding the meeting in a larger venue and said county officials should have known they would see a large turnout. Vass said administrators try to gauge crowds for certain meetings but cannot predict turnout. Vass said the county would try to schedule the special meeting proposed by Morris at a large venue such as one of the schools.
Board members Baker, Morris, Neese, Roulston and Walker attended the meeting. Chairman Conrad Helsley did not attend the meeting.
Excerpts of the proposed resolution:
Whereas, certain legislation that has or may be introduced in the Virginia General Assembly, and certain legislation which has or may be introduced in the United States Congress could have the effect of infringing on the rights of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution and of Article I, Section 13 of the Constitution ...
Whereas, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors is concerned about the passage of any bill containing language which could be interpreted as infringing upon the rights of the citizens of Shenandoah County to keep and bear arms or could begin a slippery slope of restriction on the Second Amendment (U.S. Constitution) and Article I, Section 13 (Constitution of Virginia) rights of the citizens of Shenandoah County ...
Whereas, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors wishes to express its deep commitment to the rights of all citizens of Shenandoah County to keep and bear arms ...
Whereas, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors wishes to express opposition to any law that would unconstitutionally restrict the rights ... of the citizens of Shenandoah County to keep and bear arms ...
Whereas, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors wishes to express its intent to stand as a Sanctuary County for the Second Amendment (U.S. Constitution) and Article I, Section 13 (Constitution of Virginia) rights and to oppose, within the limits of the Constitutions of the United States and the Common Wealth of Virginia, any efforts to unconstitutionally restrict such rights and to use such legal means at its disposal to protect the right of the citizens to keep and bear arms, including through legal action, the power or appropriation of public funds, and the right to petition for redress of grievances.