On Second Amendment sanctuaries

By BEN R. WILLIAMS

In recent weeks, the supervisors in both Henry County and Patrick County have voted to make these counties “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” On Dec. 10, Martinsville city council will put the matter to a vote as well.

Second Amendment sanctuaries are spreading like wildfire across the rural portions of the Commonwealth. Whether you agree with these resolutions or not, I think it’s important to take a moment to better understand two aspects of these resolutions.

First, we must understand exactly what a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution accomplishes. Second, we must understand the specific laws that these resolutions are designed to handicap.

It is important to understand that these resolutions are largely symbolic. Rich Schragger, a University of Virginia professor specializing in constitutional law, recently said in an interview that if a gun control measure is constitutional, it is unlikely that it could be blocked by a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution.

Within local law enforcement offices, Schragger said, there is a small amount of discretion that officers can use when choosing to enforce the law. It’s the equivalent, in my estimation, of an officer catching you doing a few miles over the speed limit but letting you off with a warning instead of a ticket.

The main takeaway here is that a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution is a symbolic gesture. It is political action intended to send a message. It legally cannot accomplish much more than that. If law enforcement failed to enforce state laws because of a county resolution, it’s unlikely the argument would hold up in any court.

The second item we need to examine is the specific laws that Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions are designed to circumvent.

This movement can ultimately be traced back to May 31 of this year, when a disgruntled Virginia Beach city employee gunned down 12 people and wounded four others at a municipal building in Princess Anne. This inspired Gov. Ralph Northam to convene a special session of the General Assembly to take up gun control legislation.

That special session ended abruptly when the General Assembly, then Republican-controlled, adjourned after 90 minutes without considering any of the bills before them.

Second Amendment sanctuaries are now proliferating out of concern that the Virginia House and Senate, which will both be controlled by Democrats come January, will reevaluate these bills and potentially pass some of them.

Just to underscore one important point: None of the laws that these resolutions are designed to circumvent have actually been passed.

Having established the backstory, here are some of the measures that Northam has proposed in the past:

-The implementation of universal background checks, which would require almost all firearm transactions in the U.S. to be recorded and go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, thus closing the private sale exemption.

-A ban on sales of assault weapons, which are generally defined as semi-automatic rifles with a detachable magazine and pistol grip, such as the AR-15. (On a side note, an assault weapon is not the same thing as an assault rifle, an AR-15 is not an assault rifle, and the AR in AR-15 doesn’t stand for “assault rifle,” it stands for “ArmaLite Rifle.”)

-A ban on silencers and devices like bump stocks, which allow someone to fire a semi-automatic weapon in a fashion similar to an automatic weapon. Automatic weapons are currently banned unless the owner has both a Federal Firearms License and is also a Class 3 Special Occupational Taxpayer, which is not an easy trick to pull off.

-A requirement that residents report lost or stolen firearms to police.

-The implementation of a “red flag” law, which allows police or family members to petition a state court to order the TEMPORARY removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or to themselves. A judge makes the determination based on statements and actions made by the gun owner in question. Depending on the state, these laws go by a variety of names, such as “Extreme Risk Protection Order” or ERPO. As of now, 17 states and Washington D.C. have passed red flag laws.

These are the main proposed laws that Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions are designed to address. You will note that I did not mention anything about confiscating guns from law abiding citizens, as there are no proposed laws that would do such a thing, nor would such a law be constitutional.

Ultimately, all Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions are messages. If we are to send a message to our newly-elected representatives in Richmond in an attempt to tell them what we stand for, then we should fully understand the statement we are making.

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