Local Officials Buck Virginia Dems' Gun-Control Push

Counties pledge not to adopt Richmond-backed gun-free zones

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam / Getty Images
July 29, 2020

Local officials across Virginia are resisting the push from Virginia Democrats to adopt gun-free zones.

Lawmakers in Powhatan County—located just outside Richmond— unanimously passed a "No Local Gun Control" resolution that would prevent localities from creating gun-free zones. The debate over gun restrictions that dominated Gov. Ralph Northam's (D.) agenda in the early months of 2020 has moved back to the local level after state Democrats passed a law allowing local governments to ban the presence of firearms at certain buildings and events. Larry Nordvig, the independent Powhatan County supervisor who introduced the county's resolution, told the Washington Free Beacon he hopes the resolution sends a message to the statehouse.

"The tension is growing and the blame is entirely theirs," he said. "Our natural-born rights are being eroded at lightning speed, and I intend to help citizens stand against government overreach. This resolution contained a plan of action to defund any unconstitutional actions. The time for talk is over. It's time for action."

Powhatan is the fifth county to pass the resolution since the new gun-control measures went into effect in July. Other cities have embraced the new regulatory power, with Alexandria, Newport News, and Richmond using the state law to establish gun bans in government buildings, parks, and at permitted events. The gun-free zone debate sets the stage for a second showdown between liberal strongholds, Democratic leaders, and the rest of the state over more restrictive gun laws.

Nordvig said the new law has the potential to lead well-meaning Virginia gun owners into legal trouble.

"Conceivably, you could be walking, or driving, past a local festival and inadvertently be in violation of a new gun law," he said. "It would also have a chilling effect on personal protection while traveling, since each locality would have a confusing patchwork of different laws, a result which I think is intentional."

The counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Patrick, and Pittsylvania have also bucked the push for increased local gun control. Trevor Hipps, an independent Appomattox County supervisor who voted for the resolution, said the new gun restrictions would hurt his constituents.

"Rural Virginians, by and large, are gun-owning folks," he told the Free Beacon. "In my district, most households have guns—and this is Democrat and Republican alike. We wanted to make it very clear to our constituents where we stood on this issue."

John Hinkle, another independent Appomattox County supervisor, said that local officials have been overly restrictive in enacting blanket bans on firearms possession. He pointed to some cities that did not carve out exemptions for visiting police officers and concealed-carry permit holders, saying such restrictions would create a "nightmare" for legal gun owners.

"Virginia is becoming a nightmare for those exercising their Second Amendment rights," Hinkle said. "We needed it to affirm to our residents and potential visitors that in Appomattox County they would not be burdened by additional restrictions when state laws are restrictive beyond necessity now."

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), is spearheading the resolution. The Second Amendment activist expects more localities to pass similar legislation.

"It is a snowball that is starting to move," he told the Free Beacon. "We have five localities that have passed the resolution and many more that are in various stages of consideration."

VCDL was one of the driving forces behind the "Second Amendment sanctuary" movement, a local legislative push mirrored on Democratic efforts to undermine immigration enforcement. The movement eventually persuaded 147 localities, including 91 of the state's 95 counties, to adopt resolutions saying they would not use local resources to enforce any gun laws the locality deemed unconstitutional. Gun-rights advocates are now hoping to repeat the success of the "Second Amendment sanctuary" movement.

"I hope other counties follow suit just like they did with the Second Amendment Sanctuary [bills] that took Virginia counties by storm starting this past November and earlier this year," Hipps said. "Imagining a landscape where gun rights are supported in one county but not in a neighboring county, causes a lot of confusion for the good and law-abiding gun owners of this state. People seem to forget; it says our right to bear arms 'shall not be infringed.'"

VCDL said it already has a step up on those pushing the new gun-free zones because several of the "Second Amendment sanctuary" resolutions passed earlier this year also preclude new gun-free zones. The group counts the city of Colonial Heights as well as the counties of Pulaski and Southampton as having passed sanctuary resolutions forbidding local gun-control laws.

VCDL said an additional seven localities have already had "No Local Gun Control" resolutions officially submitted and Gloucester County is set to vote on its resolution on August 4.