STRASBURG — Dozens of area residents on Monday attended a Town Council work session to express their support of Second Amendment rights.
About 65 people filled the council chambers to discuss a proposed resolution declaring the town a Second Amendment sanctuary. The council will continue the discussion at its 7 p.m. Tuesday regular meeting.
Though nine residents who spoke on the issue were all in favor of the resolution, most expressed an interest in being understood for their perspective, and some expressed regret that people with opposing viewpoints had not come out to speak.
“Gun owners aren’t bad guys,” said Larry Lindsay. “They're the first ones who will come in the line of defense if this country gets attacked.”
Seth Newman, who said he served with the armed forces in the Middle East around the time of the first war with Iraq, agreed that the Second Amendment is part of what keeps Americans safe from attack, either from others or from each other.
“We have at a moment’s notice the biggest militia in the world,” he said.
“Don’t take away my right to defend myself and/or you at a moment’s notice if something happens,” he said.
Pointing out that murder is already illegal, and that people are still murdered every day, Dan Knapp Jr. said recently proposed gun laws would hurt law-abiding citizens.
“These laws will not affect the criminals that are going to commit these crimes,” he said.
Saying he would get out of his car to help police if needed, he added, “you are putting your officers and the rule of law at risk.”
Police Chief Wayne Sager spoke from a statement on the department’s commitment to uphold the law while also not infringing on anyone’s constitutional rights.
Sharing crime statistics in town, he said since January 2016, there have been 12 weapons violations, which included a concealed stolen weapon, reckless handling of a firearm and a BB gun violation.
The town has had 37 arrests concerning firearms violations during that time. He said the discrepancy in numbers is because many of the offenders were wanted in other localities, but were simply arrested in Strasburg.
Greg Flynn, a former law-enforcement officer in Lynchburg, offered a document for the council to use if members vote next week to adopt a resolution.
The resolution would be a symbolic gesture to show Strasburg’s support of the Second Amendment and its opposition to a proposed state Senate bill that Flynn said would greatly reduce the number of firearms that civilians could own in Virginia.
Senate Bill 16 “is not necessarily about guns,” Flynn said. “It’s about control."
Though the bill seeks to ban assault weapons, Flynn said true assault weapons have already been outlawed, except by a class-free license and accompanying paperwork, for quite some time. Instead, he said, the bill would classify nearly every weapon as an “assault weapon.”
Mike Rickard pointed out that law enforcement officers have lost their lives trying to enforce “Red Flag” laws, which allow officials in some states to remove guns from people reported by family, friends or neighbors to be a danger to themselves or others. He suggested people educate themselves before jumping to conclusions.
Craig Anderson, of Warren County, who said his daughter lives in Strasburg, showed appreciation for the council’s courage in standing up to the Senate bill.
“This is just straight up tyranny coming out of Richmond,” he said. “The red flag law is just the elimination of due process.”
Council members Kim Bishop, John Massoud and Ken Cherrix introduced the discussion to the Monday agenda last week after hearing from residents who wanted the town to take up the issue.
Since then, Massoud said he’s heard from dozens of people by phone, text and email, most in favor of a resolution.
In favor of common ground and more information were Vice Mayor Scott Terndrup and council members Barbara Plitt and Emily Reynolds.
Terndrup admitted ignorance on the issue, saying he understands that gun ownership is a part of the town’s culture but also noting that other nations around the world, such as New Zealand, don’t share the same cultural interest.
“I need to learn more,” he said.
Calling the discussion a “good start,” he added, “Let’s talk about a lot of issues in this town that we care about.”
Reynolds also expressed a desire to learn more, saying she spent a good part of the holiday weekend researching the subject, even though it “annoyed” her to do so.
She thanked Flynn for the resolution he typed up for the council, but added that she doesn’t think the council has any scope to determine what’s constitutional and what isn’t.
She also feared that if the council adopts a resolution in favor of the Second Amendment, then that will shut the door on other realistic community discussions.
SB 16 is extreme, she agreed, but she feels there’s extremism on both sides of the issue.
“You have to be able to see both sides of the issue,” Plitt agreed.
If SB 16 is adopted, Bishop said, “This will affect you. This will affect everybody.”
However, she said, “there are two sides of an argument” and she was sorry to see that more people didn’t show up in opposition.
Massoud pointed out that a second bill, SB 64, would make training for a militia illegal.
“You could argue, and I’m sure some people will, that basic firearm safety courses would be made illegal,” he said. “If that doesn’t scare everybody, I don’t know what does.”
The bills will be voted on in January, Flynn said, and “there is no compromise there. … They’re attacking the Second Amendment.
“Everybody here says you need to listen more and learn more and read more, and everything.
“Imagine half your population becoming instant felons,” he said. “Every firearm that is in violation of that single bill is gonna be classified a felon. … I’m going to be a felon, multiple times over, and I will not comply [with] that law.
“I came to you, the Town Council, because of the oaths that you took to uphold and defend the Constitution, just like I did when I was a police officer and I put my life on the line every day to protect people and defend them and defend their constitutional rights.
“I am asking for you to protect us. We are the citizens of this town. We are protected by the Constitution. You took the oaths. I am putting it on you to protect us. It may be symbolic, but it is going to send a message to Richmond that you are protecting your citizens, and with the Constitution as your basis, you will not let anything happen to your citizens.”
“The Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights protect all the other amendments,” he said.