The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted last week to ban guns in county buildings, following suit with its neighbors in Northern Virginia. But the majority of the commonwealth still permits guns in public spaces, marking a key divide in the state.
Since last summer, local governments in Virginia have been authorized to restrict guns in public under a law enacted by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
That law came after a 2019 push to establish “Second Amendment sanctuaries” that recognize gun rights throughout the state. As of November 2019, more than 100 cities and counties had passed some kind of resolution supporting gun rights, according to a list compiled by WSLS 10 News in Roanoke.
“It tends to be heavily Democrat-controlled or Democrat-centered areas, like Northern Virginia, for example, that, that have passed these [gun restrictions] so you’re not getting them in more red conservative rural areas,” said Amy Swearer, legal fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
Nico Bocour, government affairs director for the gun-control advocacy group Giffords, said that Virginia allowing localities to restrict firearms in public provides an opportunity for each community to address their own specific needs.
“What might be appropriate in a very rural area might be a little bit different in a very densely populated urban area, as far as, you know, day-to-day regulations of various sorts,” Ms. Bocour said.
Virginia law allows localities to establish “gun-free” zones that can include areas such as schools, hospitals and government buildings. The cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Richmond, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Blacksburg and Virginia Beach, and the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Henrico have set up gun-free zones.
Loudoun County’s ban includes county buildings, offices and parks and directs county staffers to set up security and screening in several buildings. However, it exempts active-duty military on official business, historical reenactments, private security hired for an event, or anyone with a concealed carry permit visiting a county park.
Other localities, such as Blacksburg and Richmond, have banned guns at large public events that require a permit.
Ms. Swearer says such bans are, at best, ineffective because they are hard to enforce and, at worst, dangerous because they don’t allow law-abiding gun owners to protect themselves.
However, gun control advocates argue that the presence of more firearms, especially at protest events or rallies where emotions could be running high, just increases the likelihood of harm.
“You never know what might happen,” Mr. Bocour said.
On March 15, the Roanoke City Council will consider legislation to ban guns at certain municipal buildings. This isn’t a new push for gun-control advocates, who cite the 2019 shooting in Virginia Beach, where 12 people were fatally shot and four others wounded in a municipal building.
“When the incident occurred in Virginia Beach, I promised the citizens that we would do all that we could to eliminate firearms being brought into City Hall,” Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea said last week, according to WDBJ 7 News.
Ms. Swearer says the Virginia Beach shooting wouldn’t have been prevented by such a gun ban.
“The Virginia Beach shooting was incredibly tragic, I mean nobody doubts that,” she said. “My understanding is Virginia Beach already had an ordinance in place that this individual was not allowed to carry [there] was a policy in place in that workplace where employees were not permitted to carry inside that building. So you had an individual who ignored that law and was still able to get inside and harm people.”
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