The Washington Post

Council of Governments backs down on gun control resolution, supports education, training

A resolution calling for strong gun control measures that threatened to tear apart the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments was replaced Wednesday by a resolution calling for increased public education, training and information sharing about guns. Loudoun, Prince William and Frederick counties and Manassas City had said they would pull out of the regional council if the original resolution was not withdrawn, and the new resolution passed by a vote of 21 to 3.

Matt Letourneau, the Loudoun County supervisor who advocated reversal of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' initial policy in favor of gun control. (Loudoun County) Loudoun Supervisor Matt Letourneau (Loudoun County)

Some of the supporters of the original solution were disappointed by what they saw as a watered-down resolution on an important public policy issue. Others said it was inappropriate and divisive for COG, which typically serves as a forum for regional cooperation on transportation, growth and environmental issues.

In March, a resolution supported strongly by Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder and D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson passed which adopted a position paper from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. That paper supported an assault weapons ban, eliminating the “gun show loophole” and a mandatory five-day waiting period to buy guns, among other things. The resolution was inspired by the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

But some members of COG, composed of top government officials from nearly every county and city in the Washington area, felt it was wrong for COG to take a stance on guns, much less one in favor of gun control. Loudoun and Frederick counties immediately withheld their annual dues, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Prince William County and Manassas City threatened to do the same if the position wasn’t reversed.

In April, the COG board voted to send the matter back to a committee for study. The council’s Human Services and Public Safety Policy Committee turned first to the region’s police chiefs and sheriffs, where there was no consensus on a policy and little interest on wading into the politically charged issue, the committee reported. Turning to local health officials, the committee heard about a need to improve public awareness of mental health issues and access to treatment. The committee found there was a “region-wide commitment to address violence in a coordinated manner when it occurs,” or after the fact. The committee’s resolution recommended public education campaigns on firearms safety and mental health, expanded police training on responses to shooting, and expanded data collection on gun-related crimes.

Fairfax County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova, who helped calm tensions on the council as some counties were threatening to withdraw, said it was “important that when a position is taken at COG, that it is truly is reflective of where commonalities exist. Hopefully this is the beginning of a discussion that can focus on some specific aspects of gun violence, such as mental health training, that hopefully can make our region a safer place.”

Loudoun Supervisor Matt Letourneau, who was part of the group who strongly opposed COG taking a stance on gun control said he was pleased with the new resolution. “COG is not the place to wage political fights for effect on controversial federal issues.” Letourneau said. “The resolution that passed was carefully vetted by law enforcement and the appropriate COG committee and provides realistic, actionable recommendations to local governments to improve information sharing on violence and mental health issues.”

He said Loudoun would now pay its annual dues, which are close to $250,000.

Prince William County Board Chairman Corey Stewart said: “I just don’t think it’s the proper role of COG and distracts from the most important issues. I was glad to see they came back with something that is fairly harmless.”

Snyder of Falls Church was disgusted that COG had backed away from its strong initial stance. “This is clearly a local issue,” Snyder said. “Every gun incident involves regional responders, and the Navy Yard incident was regional in every sense of the word. To fail to address this issue is to fail to address one of the most significant issues we face. It’s an unfortunate abdication of regional leadership.”

Snyder, Mendelson and Prince George’s County Council member Andrea Harrison were the three COG board members to vote against the new resolution. Snyder said he and Mendelson planned to press further on issues such as background checks.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.



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Tom Jackman · October 9, 2013