Virginia gun owners have gathered by the hundreds at Board of Supervisors meetings in counties across the state to send a message to the newly elected Democratic legislature in Richmond.
As of this writing, 23 counties and towns have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries since Michael Bloomberg flipped the state legislature from red to blue earlier this month. Second Amendment sanctuaries exist in many states across the country, but no state has seen so many in such a short span of time.
“It’s sending a message to Richmond saying we don’t want any more gun control out here,” Philip Van Cleave told GunsAmerica. Van Cleave is the President of the gun-rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League, which has been fighting for Second Amendment rights in Virginia since 1994, when they helped turned the state from may-issue to shall-issue.
Van Cleave has been active in the gun rights movement in Virginia for over 20 years, and he says he’s never seen anything like this.
“Nothing even touches the activity in Virginia right now. A lot of gun owners were sleeping, but now they’ve woke the sleeping giant. All these gun owners that have been sound asleep have suddenly woken up.”
The numbers don’t lie. Of Virginia’s 133 counties and independent towns, 23 have already declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries, and another 53 are considering the measure.
“There are more coming,” Van Cleave predicted. “That number’s going to jump quite a bit.”
County Board of Supervisor meetings are literally overflowing with gun owners hoping to send a message to Richmond.
One thousand people showed up at a Board of Supervisors meeting in Shenandoah County, for example, and 700 people attended a meeting in Washington County. The meetings in Amherst and Amelia counties were standing-room-only with crowds flooding the hallways and the front lawns.
On a larger scale, gun owners—when they show up—represent a massive voting block in state elections. Van Cleave pointed out that in a state of 8 million people, there are 2 million gun owners and 600,000 hold concealed carry permits.
Van Cleave admitted that when a county declares itself a Second Amendment sanctuary, the gesture is mostly symbolic from a legal standpoint. While all county employees, including any police force, are bound by the resolution, sheriffs and county attorneys are independently elected in Virginia.
But Van Cleave also pointed out that many sheriffs follow the county’s lead, and many others have independently vowed not to enforce new gun control.
More importantly, the Second Amendment sanctuary push sends a clear message to the state legislature and gives gun owners a clear mission.
“While there’s no real teeth in it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have influence,” Van Cleave said. “It’s unifying gun owners. It’s giving them a mission and a message. And they’re sending it loud and clear.”
Unity will be key to blocking the slate of anti-gun measures the legislature plans to adopt in the upcoming session. Van Cleave believes that if gun owners can exert enough pressure on Senate Democrats in purple districts, they can block some of the most extreme anti-gun policies.
“[The Democrats] will know they’re in a fight. This isn’t going to be a cakewalk,” he said. “It’s one thing to be brave and vote along with gun control when you know that Republicans are going to kill it anyhow. Now they’re going to own it. If they pass gun control, they’re going to own it. They’ll be the target for all those angry gun owners that are waking up.”
The Democrats hold a commanding 55-45 majority in the House of Delegates, but in the Senate their 21-19 majority is much smaller. If two Democrats fail to support any given bill, Republicans will be able to block it.
For now, Van Cleave and his team are focusing on what they believe will be a massive Second Amendment rally and lobby day in Richmond on the third Monday in January. If the turnout at Board of Supervisors meetings is any indication, he has good reason to be optimistic.
To gun owners in other states, Van Cleave’s message is clear: don’t get complacent.
“Don’t think this isn’t coming to your state,” he warned. “They’re looking at Virginia as a test case. What they’re doing here, they’ll do in Kentucky, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina. We all have to stand up and fight. We can’t run to another state. This is a movement to disarm us.”