DALEVILLE — Botetourt County joined more than a dozen Virginia counties that have declared themselves Second Amendment “sanctuaries” in response to promises by soon to be empowered General Assembly Democrats to enact new gun laws next year.
The Botetourt Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to label the county a gun rights sanctuary and urge state and federal government to reject “any provision, law, or regulation that may infringe, have the tendency to infringe, or place any additional burdens on the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms.”
According to the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group organizing support for the movement, 17 localities have approved such resolutions as of Tuesday afternoon and dozens more are considering them. In the Roanoke region and New River Valley, Bedford, Franklin, Montgomery and Pulaski counties have taken public comment and are expected to consider sanctuary resolutions in December. Giles and Wythe counties already have approved them, according to the VCDL.
The league and other gun rights activists launched the Second Amendment sanctuary movement in the wake of the Nov. 5 General Assembly election, when Democrats won control of both chambers of the legislature. When the General Assembly convenes in January, Republicans — who have steadfastly rolled back and blocked gun-related legislation — will be the minority for the first time since 1995.
It mirrors a trend that began last year in western parts of the United States, where some law enforcement officials vowed to go to jail rather than enforce firearm restrictions, and has spread eastward. In New Mexico, 25 of 33 counties declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries after the state expanded background checks. In Illinois, nearly two-thirds of its counties have done the same.
Local government meetings in Virginia on the issue have been packed, as was Tuesday’s meeting in Daleville. An estimated 400 people or more filled the meeting room at the Botetourt Center at Greenfield and flooded an overflow room with a closed-circuit feed of the meeting.
Two dozen people addressed the board, all of them supporting the resolution.
Some came prepared to demand the board strengthen the language in the draft resolution released with the meeting agenda, which lacked language that expressly declared the county a Second Amendment sanctuary.
At the top of the discussion, however, Chairman Billy Martin announced that the resolution had been amended to include that explicitly.
Several speakers, however, pressed the board to toughen the resolution. Some specifically asked for a resolution that declared the county government won’t assist in the enforcement of any state laws that restrict gun ownership.
County Attorney Michael Lockaby explained why Botetourt’s resolution didn’t go that far. He described state law that forbids local governments from enacting gun legislation that conflicts with the state code. The same law that bars a locality from passing more restrictive gun regulations means a county like Botetourt also cannot enact less restrictive ordinances or selectively ignore state laws, he said.
In Botetourt, Lockaby added, law enforcement is independent of the board with an elected sheriff and commonwealth’s attorney. The board has no authority to direct authorities not to enforce a law, he said.
Several speakers specifically cited Senate Bill 16, sponsored by state Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, as problematic. Among its features, the bill aims to restrict the sale and possession of semiautomatic center-fire rifles with a fixed magazine capacity of 10 rounds or a capacity for a detachable magazine and other features. Saslaw is expected to become the Senate majority leader in January.
As written the law is too broad and threatens to make felons of thousands of law-abiding gun owners, the speakers said, calling it a step toward confiscation of guns and totalitarian rule.
The five board members said little before voting, other than to assert their support for the resolution and praise the crowd for coming out and speaking. Buchanan Supervisor Ray Sloan called the turnout “heartwarming.”