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Franklin County residents concerned about protecting their gun rights after Democrats swept the state legislature in November packed last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, demanding the county adopt a designation as a Second Amendment Sanctuary. Our editorial at left asks: Why aren’t these same crowds also demanding that the General Assembly increase funding for rural schools? These resolutions may send one message to Richmond but so does the silence from rural Virginia about inequitable school funding.

Some liberal cities — although none in Virginia — have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” that don’t go out of their way to cooperate with federal authorities on immigration matters.

Now some conservative counties have started to declare themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” – for whatever that means in terms of gun laws.

In Virginia, Carroll County was the first — back in April. Now, with Democrats winning control of the General Assembly in elections earlier this month, and those Democrats poised to pass gun-related laws previously bottled up by Republicans, other rural counties are rushing to do the same. So far at least six other counties have passed sanctuary resolutions — Appomattox, Charlotte, Campbell, Dinwiddie, Patrick and Pittsylvania. And both Amherst and Franklin counties have seen large and spirited crowds turn out to encourage their boards of supervisors to join them.

It’s unclear what any of these resolutions actually would do other than make gun rights advocates feel better. The resolutions vary from place to place. The one in Carroll County says it’s the county’s intent “that public funds of the county not be used to restrict Second Amendment rights or to aid in the unnecessary and unconstitutional restriction of the rights under the Second Amendment of the citizens of Carroll County to bear arms.”

That mostly seems a meaningless mush of words. Who defines what “Second Amendment rights” are and whether they’re be restricted? Not Carroll County. Ultimately, it’s the courts. Surely none of these counties intend to set themselves up as arbiters of constitutional law to nullify court rulings they may not like, right? If these counties really mean that, perhaps they need to start erecting statues of John C. Calhoun outside the local courthouse.

And what constitutes “the unnecessary and unconstitutional restriction” of rights? The unconstitutional part is pretty clear, or ought to be. But what does “unnecessary” mean? That’s very much an eye of the beholder sort of thing. Gov. Ralph Northam says his proposed gun laws are “common sense.” He’d consider them necessary — and dispute they’re a restriction of Second Amendment rights at all. Isn’t that part of what the whole debate is about? Unless somebody wants to advocate open rebellion (Appomattox, of all counties, ought to know how that worked out the last time), this seems simply a cathartic exercise in expressing people’s emotions, which are obviously running high in some places. Attorney General Mark Herring has said these measures “appear to be nothing more than symbolic.”

Someday, future historians may look back and wonder how and why some people have become so attached to — or repelled by — an inanimate object. Local schools are struggling to keep up with the demands of the new economy — why don’t we see hundreds of angry people yelling at their elected officials to do something about that? The agitated people showing up to demand “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions are certainly sending a message to Richmond — but their absolute silence on schools sends a pretty clear message, as well. The problem is the message on guns won’t be well received by the legislature’s new liberal majority, while the lack of one on schools will be taken as an indication that a metro-dominated General Assembly can breezily ignore the condition of many rural schools. After all, we know people in rural communities can mobilize on something they plainly care about — so they must not care about their schools, and if they don’t, why should anyone else?

That’s surely not what the people showing up at these board meetings are thinking, but perhaps they ought to. That’s not meant to discourage people from civic participation on an issue they feel strongly about —in the abstract that’s always a good thing — but to offer some cold-eyed political perspective. Communication isn’t what is said, it’s what is heard — and what the General Assembly’s new majority is hearing from rural Virginia right now is that the only thing people care about is guns. If that’s not true, then it’s clear how to counteract the stereotype we’ve just walked ourselves into: Show up at the next supervisors meeting and demand more funding for the local school system — although that’s really not the best place to go. Most rural school systems get the majority of their school funding from Richmond, so show up at the General Assembly and demand more state funding.

There’s an annual day where gun rights activists show at the legislature. Why isn’t there an annual day where people from rural communities show up and demand more attention to schools that the governor himself called “crumbling” in his inaugural address? Silence is consent and the silence from rural Virginia on school funding is a form of consent to an inequitable system.

We’ve cited these numbers before but they bear repeating. In Arlington, there’s $20,460 spent on each student. In much of rural Virginia, the figure is about half that — with the lowest being $9,219 in Norton. Yes, yes, there are certain things that will naturally cost more in Northern Virginia. And yes, yes, money alone isn’t the always the answer. But there are some things where “throwing money at the problem” really does solve the problem. Money can fix leaking roofs so students aren’t sitting in classrooms where rain is dripping into trash cans. Money can buy technology so that students in rural Virginia can be trained for the new economy as well as their counterparts in Northern Virginia. The problem of outdated school buildings isn’t a uniquely rural problem. Indeed, the most egregious examples are in Richmond and Norfolk — where chunks of ceiling tiles have come crashing down, sometimes on students.

It remains a mystery to us why there hasn’t been a grand coalition formed to do something about this — one that unites rural conservatives with urban liberals. Instead, the unity has been the other way. Last year, when state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, proposed a statewide referendum on a bond issue for school construction, both Democrats and Republicans joined to deep six it. He’s introduced that measure again, but the political dynamics won’t change unless people demand they do.

So here’s a challenge to all these rural localities passing Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions: While you’re all fired up with civic activism, start passing some resolutions in favor of more school funding. Unless, of course, guns really are all you care about.

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