Gun owners in Virginia have remained defiant under pressure from their state’s governor and attorney general as anti-gun forces throughout the government work to minimize the impact of the Second Amendment sanctuary movement and offer compromises designed to deflate the effort.
“[We are] not going to accept anything but the complete defeat of all gun bills that in anyway [sic], shape, or form, affect law-abiding gun owners in a negative way,” Philip Van Cleave, the President of the gun rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), said in an email to supporters.
Van Cleave has helped foster a grassroots effort in Virginia to declare much of the state a Second Amendment sanctuary in the wake of the Democratic takeover of the state legislature earlier this year. Thus far, 59 counties, towns, and cities have jumped on board, but the movement has begun to face opposition from the highest levels of state government.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring both downplayed the movement and voiced an implicit threat in an interview with ABC 8News.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Herring said, when asked whether localities would actually refuse to enforce new gun laws. “These laws, when they get passed, they’re going to be followed and when you look at the resolutions that are being passed, they’re really just expressions of opposition to these gun safety measures that Virginians have demanded for a long time.”
“When you talk to those who are in law enforcement and really push them a little bit, like a sheriff or a prosecutor and say, ‘So, really? You mean you’re going to allow violent felons to go ahead and purchase firearms?’ No. They back down pretty quickly.”
Herring failed to name a law enforcement official who had “backed down pretty quickly,” but so far none have come forward to oppose the Second Amendment sanctuary movement.
Herring is right that county sheriffs and attorneys general are independently elected in Virginia, and most sanctuary resolutions are not binding on those local law enforcement officials. But Van Cleave noted in an interview with GunsAmerica that many sheriffs follow the county’s lead in these matters, and some have voiced explicit support for the Second Amendment sanctuary movement.
Culpepper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins, for instance, vowed to deputize county residents to protect their right to keep and bear arms.
“Every Sheriff and Commonwealth Attorney in Virginia will see the consequences if our General Assembly passes further unnecessary gun restrictions,” he said in a Facebook post. “I remain very optimistic that our General Assembly will not pass the proposed bills. Obviously, if passed, there are many of us willing to challenge these laws through the courts. In addition, if necessary, I plan to properly screen and deputize thousands of our law-abiding citizens to protect their constitutional right to own firearms.”
Rather than threaten the budding gun rights movement, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has extended what appears to be a concession. The governor has reportedly backed a version of an “assault weapons” ban that includes a grandfather clause for those who already own the firearms. Those rifles would still have to be registered with the state, but an earlier version of the legislation filed by Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw included no grandfather clause (SB 16).
But Van Cleave and the VCDL saw Northam’s move coming, and they vowed not to compromise.
A day before Northam’s office announced his support of a grandfather clause, the VCDL sent an email anticipating the “concession.”
“The next step for Saslaw will be to offer to ‘grandfather’ existing gun owners, thinking that gun owners would be stupid enough, and selfish enough, to accept such a ‘compromise’ in exchange for passing SB 16 or its ilk,” Van Cleave said. “Once passed into law, gun controllers hope that gun owners will go back to sleep so the gun-control agenda can keep moving forward without massive opposition.
“Will VCDL accept such a ‘compromise?’
“Oh, HELL no.”
Gun rights groups in Virginia have their work cut out for them. More than a dozen gun control bills have been pre-filed before the 2020 legislative session begins on January 8.
Virginia residents wanting to reach their state elected officials can do so here. The VCDL is also encouraging gun owners throughout the state to attend their lobby day in Richmond on Monday, January 20.