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Citing U.S., Virginia constitutions, Roanoke council rebuffs call for gun rights sanctuary

Citing U.S., Virginia constitutions, Roanoke council rebuffs call for gun rights sanctuary

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Dozens of gun rights advocates crowded Roanoke City Council chambers Monday, calling on the council to make the city a Second Amendment sanctuary, but were rebuffed.

The city has no authority or intent to violate the U.S. or Virginia constitutions, Mayor Sherman Lea told the crowd of about 100 in explaining why the council would take no such action.

“I see no need or benefit to any action by this city validating what the Constitution already guarantees,” said Lea, part of the Democratic majority on the city council.

Second Amendment advocates have packed local government meetings across Virginia calling on boards and councils to pass resolutions declaring themselves gun rights sanctuaries.

The movement comes in response to gun control bills to be considered in January as Democrats take control of the Virginia General Assembly. So far, 23 counties have passed resolutions, including Botetourt, Giles and Henry counties, according to the idea’s chief proponent, the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Roanoke County’s board of supervisors is to take up such a resolution Tuesday.

Among the gun control bills offered is one sought in the past and again this year by the Roanoke City Council — a law that gives local governments the authority to ban firearms from public buildings.

Monday morning, council members met with local legislators to discuss their legislative agenda, including a request for such legislation.

Council’s chambers should be a “welcoming space where people can come in and voice their opinions in a healthy democracy,” Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, said. People carrying weapons in the chamber, as has happened in the past, undermines that, he said.

Republicans in the delegation opposed the idea.

Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt, noted surrounding localities are passing Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions. In seeking to restrict gun rights, he said, the council is “really sort of swimming upstream.”

At the same time, Head predicted the bills would get a friendly reception in the General Assembly this year.

“Sometimes when we govern, it’s important to swim upstream,” Vice Mayor Joe Cobb said.

Some gun rights proponents were in the room during the morning session, but one stormed out after Councilwoman Trish White-Boyd said the presence of guns doesn’t give her a warm, safe feeling.

“Where do mass shootings happen? They happen in gun free zones and you know it,” the man shouted as he left.

“Is that what happened in El Paso?” replied one gun control advocate, referring to the August mass shooting in Texas where 22 were killed. “Was that Walmart a gun free zone?”

The man, Glenn Snow, returned to the 2 p.m. meeting and apologized to the council for disrupting the morning meeting, but didn’t back down from his position.

“The only people that you are hurting are the people that are trying to abide by the laws,” he told council members.

Snow was one of 13 people who addressed the council during its public comment period to support gun rights.

“It’s illegal for you all to discuss any law that is counter to the Second Amendment,” said Roger Malouf, a one-time Republican candidate for city council.

James Dickenson, a former longtime Roanoke police officer, asked the council to tell Richmond not to pass laws currently proposed because they’re unconstitutional.

“Don’t put law enforcement in a position of enforcing an unconstitutional law,” he said.

“No gun zones are the most vulnerable areas for people who abide by the law,” Pat Norton told the council.

Four gun control advocates also spoke, including Barbara Andes, who said that it’s understood in today’s society that she can’t display her “God-given body and body parts” in public, yet “we are asked to shop, recreate, eat and, yes, attend city council meetings with people who have on full display their not-God given guns.”

“Why do we constantly promote guns as a solution to our problems and then wonder why we have a gun violence problem?” asked Catherine Koebel.

After the mayor announced the council would take no action on the sanctuary request, the room emptied with a cacophony of shouted comments, most audible among them, “We will not comply!”

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