An effort by the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to eliminate the fee for
concealed-handgun permits in the county failed to move forward last week.

In January, Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) introduced the idea of nixing all or most of the $50 fee, saying the local government shouldn’t charge residents for exercising their right to bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

Although Stewart’s colleagues also expressed their support for gun rights Tuesday, a measure seeking to reduce the concealed-permit charge to $15 failed on a vote of 4 to 4.

The chairman and other supervisors spoke about Americans’ right to protect themselves, and to do so in what board Vice Chairman Pete K. Candland (R-Gainesville) described as an increasingly dangerous world.

“I really see this as a safety issue,” Candland said.

But Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Potomac) said that county residents pointed out to her that Virginia charges fees for a variety of other pursuits, including hunting and fishing.

“Why is this one being the only one that we are pulling?” Caddigan asked.

Stewart countered that those other enterprises aren’t constitutionally protected.

“This is the only one where we’re charging individuals to practice their rights that were given to them,” the chairman said, “not by government, but by God.”

Supervisor Martin E. “Marty” Nohe (R-Coles), however, noted that although hunting and fishing aren’t protected in the U.S. Constitution, they are covered in the Virginia Constitution.

He also said that Prince William charges a fee for permits for large gatherings of people.

“The ability to peaceably assemble is one of our First Amendment rights,” Nohe said, “but we require a permit.”

Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge), meanwhile, suggested that a discussion of gun rights in general was not relevant to talk of concealed-weapon permits specifically.

“Prince William County is not charging for the right to bear arms,” he said. “We are charging to conceal. The Second Amendment does not give us a constitutional right to conceal.”

In addition, Principi, Nohe, Caddigan and others spoke of Stewart’s proposal in terms of how it could affect government budgets. The $50 fee for a
concealed-carry permit is made up of the $10 that Prince William Circuit Court Clerk Michèle B. McQuigg (R) collects, as well as $35 for the county sheriff’s office and $5 for the state police for processing applications, which include a background check.

State law mandates that court clerks collect the $10 but gives the law enforcement agencies discretion in determining fees. The total charge is not to exceed $50, according to the Code of Virginia.

Stewart’s idea was to ask county Sheriff Glendell Hill (R) to waive the $35 portion. The sheriff’s office budgets for revenue of $75,000 annually from the fee but usually ends up collecting even more.

Stewart suggested that $75,000 could be replaced by diverting money from the Prince William jail’s budget. But McQuigg and Hill, who, like the supervisors, are elected by voters, expressed concern about losing revenue from the permit fee.

They also said a reduction or elimination of the fee could translate into more work for their offices, which could be deluged by new permit applicants attracted by the change.

“I’m so stretched now,” McQuigg, a former supervisor and state delegate, said outside the meeting. Her office, which also serves Manassas and Manassas Park, last year issued 5,311
concealed-handgun permits.

Tuesday’s vote came after 14 people addressed the supervisors on the issue. Nine were in favor of Stewart’s plan; five were opposed.

One of those speakers was Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Although he was disappointed with the outcome, he pointed out that the vote was close. And he said that even if the charge for a concealed-carry permit is called a “fee,” he thinks it’s really just the government taking money from residents exercising a right.

“This is a tax,” he said.

Because Tuesday’s vote ended in a tie, Stewart can bring up the issue again, and he said he plans to revisit the idea when there seems to be more support for the proposal. Candland and Supervisors Ruth M. Anderson (R-Occoquan) and Jeanine M. Lawson (R-Brentsville) joined him in voting for the fee reduction.

A separate measure by state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (R-
Midlothian) to make the $10 fee charged by local circuit court clerks optional was approved Wednesday by the Senate Finance Committee in Richmond. It was bound for the Senate floor.

Hunley is a freelance writer.