CHRISTIANSBURG — More than 800 people packed Montgomery and Pulaski counties’ board of supervisors meetings Monday night to either hear or speak about a demand that each locality join the growing roster of municipalities that have declared themselves so-called Second Amendment sanctuaries.
“I will never comply with any law that infringes on my Second Amendment rights,” Fairlawn resident Gary Hughes told the Pulaski County board during public comment.
Christiansburg resident Joe Walker told the Montgomery County board that he views the addition of more gun laws as an infringement on his constitutional rights.
“The days we lose our guns are the days we lose our lives. The criminals don’t care what our laws say,” Walker said before adding that criminals couldn’t care less about local residents’ children, money or houses. “They’re going to come and get it. … We can’t control what happens outside of these walls.”
The demand made to the New River Valley’s two largest localities comes just days after supervisors for regional neighbor Franklin County directed their staff to draw up a resolution that would declare that municipality a Second Amendment sanctuary.
The Second Amendment sanctuary push comes from pro-gun supporters who in recent weeks have voiced fears about how the General Assembly, which will be controlled by Democrats come January following the November election results, could affect gun rights in the state.
While many on Monday wore orange “Guns Save Lives” stickers and expressed strong support for gun rights, not everyone in the boardroom voiced support for the Second Amendment sanctuary demand.
Blacksburg resident Katherine Carpenter, who’s a pastor, spoke about how she once helped a suicidal woman who had just gone through a breakup. Carpenter spoke about how the woman had access to a rifle that ended up being temporarily kept away.
“I do not know if this woman would have committed suicide,” Carpenter said. With a gun “it would have been far easier for her to kill herself in the moment of desperation. In order to help people with mental illness who are contemplating suicide, we should make sure they don’t have access to a gun.”
Christiansburg resident Lisa Lucas Gardner spoke about how a sanctuary designation wouldn’t be legally effective, as a local jurisdiction can’t override state or federal law. Gardner, however, clarified that she has long been involved with guns as she was once a cop and as her family has regularly been involved in hunting.
“When I think about guns, I don’t think about peace. … I think about safety and violence as well,” Gardner said. “You’re only allowed what the state allows you to do. … You have to follow the laws.”
It’s unclear if Montgomery County will follow in the footsteps of some of their counterparts across the state. Pulaski County plans to take up a resolution on Dec. 16, but supervisors didn’t say exactly what the item would say.
“We are going to show we support the public on this,” said Pulaski County supervisors chairman Andy McCready, who is a Republican.
McCready said there appears to be a narrative from the national press against the Second Amendment.
“That’s why you didn’t hear about the school massacre in Japan,” he said, referring to how an incident there involved gasoline, not guns.
On the other hand, at least one conservative member on Montgomery County’s 4-3 Republican-dominated board has openly voiced opposition to a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution, deeming such a designation not legally binding.
“Now how many folks believe that the board of supervisors controls the sheriff’s office? How many of you believe that we control the commonwealth’s attorney’s office?” Republican Supervisor Chris Tuck said Monday. “Well, we don’t. They are both independent constitutional offices.”
Tuck said his board can’t tell those offices who to arrest and prosecute.
“We also have two large towns that are controlled by town councils and not our board,” Tuck said. “The only law enforcement the county has control over is three or four animal control offices, who in my 26 years of [practicing law], I have only seen them bring charges in relation to the care and custody of animals.”
Tuck’s comments on the legality of Second Amendment sanctuaries reflect the fact that the recently passed resolutions in Virginia are largely symbolic and are more intended to send a message to lawmakers in Richmond.
Like many conservatives, Tuck described himself as a staunch gun rights supporter. He, however, voiced concerns about a sanctuary designation leading some local residents to mistakenly believe that they are in fact immune to some state laws.
“We will have people believing if they violate the gun laws they will be safe because that is the definition of the word ‘sanctuary,’” Tuck said.
Tuck said those people may pull prison time because they may be arrested by the various law enforcement agencies operating in the county, all departments that he reiterated his board does not control.
Tuck, however, said he’d support resolutions that would ask Gov. Ralph Northam and the legislature to not violate the U.S. Constitution, including the Second Amendment.
Tuck said the state should not pass laws inconsistent with Supreme Court rulings that state that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for purposes such as self-defense within the home.
GOP Supervisors Todd King, Darrell Sheppard and Steve Fijalkowski each voiced support for a sanctuary resolution.
Fijalkowski, however, clarified that a resolution is not legally binding.
“A resolution is not law,” Fijalkowski said. “It’s really more symbolic than anything.”
Fijalkowski later added: “We don’t pass laws that are in opposition to state laws.”
Board Vice Chairwoman April DeMotts, a Democrat, said she doesn’t have a stance on a resolution because she hasn’t seen one. She, however, echoed some of Fijalkowski’s points about the county not legally being able to supersede state or federal law.
DeMotts said she’s not sure “it’s appropriate or necessary for us to vote on something that is not enforceable.”
The board will take up a resolution on Dec. 16.
Other localities that have already declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries include Appomattox and Campbell counties.
Democrats have already filed several gun control bills ahead of the January legislative session. Proposals include universal background checks, civil penalties for not reporting lost or stolen firearms to police, reinstating the state’s lapsed one-handgun-a-month law, and giving localities the ability to prohibit the carrying of firearms in a public space during an event that would require a permit.
Staff writer Sam Wall contributed to this report.