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Opinion The disturbing ‘Second Amendment sanctuary’ trend in Virginia

Spectators applaud as the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a Second Amendment Sanctuary City resolution on Dec. 9.
Spectators applaud as the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a Second Amendment Sanctuary City resolution on Dec. 9. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

Peter Galuszka is a freelance writer.

A vigorous and reactionary movement has sprung up throughout Virginia to declare cities and counties “Second Amendment sanctuaries” that will not enforce gun-control laws that the Democratic-controlled General Assembly may pass.

Generating passion, hysteria and even personal threats, the ugly movement has driven throngs of people to show up at boards of supervisors meetings. Their numbers are remarkable — 400, 800, even 2,000 in attendance.

It has prompted Scott H. Jenkins, the sheriff of Culpeper County, to offer to “deputize” thousands of county residents as a ruse to avoid compliance with future gun restrictions. He said he could deputize 5,000 concealed-weapons permit-holders and perhaps 1,000 more. Tazewell County is considering forming a “militia” that would allow residents to skirt new regulations.

By mid-December, 93 cities and counties had passed some kind of resolution opposing new gun-control rules, according to Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, an ardent anti-gun-control organization. “It’s really very simple,” he told me. “If it affects any law-abiding person, then we oppose it.”

For years, the Republican legislature has spiked any gun-control legislation despite a slew of mass shootings, such as the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech and another at a Virginia Beach municipal office building on May 31.

That is about to change. Democrats seized the House of Delegates and the state Senate in November elections. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has called for tighter rules. Among the possibilities are “red flag” laws that would require a person deemed dangerous to hand over his or her weapons, a ban on some types of assault rifles, mandatory background checks for people buying guns and restrictions such as limiting the number of rounds a magazine can have and devices that allow fast firing, such as bump stocks.

Van Cleave said the sanctuary movement — an ironic play on liberals who urged that cities be declared havens for undocumented immigrants — started from the ground up in Washington state and spread to Colorado and Kansas. It took off in a huge way in Virginia immediately after the November elections. Something similar happened after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Throughout Virginia, there was a run on ammunition at gun shops by people fearing restrictions that never came.

The outpouring of protest stands in marked contrast to polls that show most Virginians back certain gun restrictions. A Dec. 16 poll by Christopher Newport University showed that 86 percent of people surveyed backed universal background checks, 73 percent favored “red flag” laws and 54 percent supported a ban on assault rifles.

Even so, the anti-control fervor got its start in rural areas and then spread to wealthy suburban counties, including Henrico and Hanover near Richmond. “I think it reveals the deep cultural divide you have in Virginia,” political analyst Bob Holsworth told me.

The movement is dangerous, he added, because it could hurt the state economically as more high-tech firms consider moving in with more progressive-minded workers. Some may not want to locate in a gun-toting state. And it is certainly ugly, he said. “The threats that have come up are really over the top as people talk to officials,” Holsworth said.

A sad irony is that the “sanctuary” movement conjures the disturbing nullification movements of the past three centuries in Virginia. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison argued that the states have the right to ignore federal laws they consider unconstitutional.

That thinking was applied to proslavery movements, leading to the Civil War and the fight over integration in the 1950s and 1960s. Prince Edward County, for instance, shut down public schools for several years rather than desegregate.

Van Cleave said that local commonwealth attorneys and sheriffs have the right not to enforce laws they don’t like because they are constitutional officers. The sanctuary movement is certain to provoke legal challenges because the resolutions passed by localities can be vague, unenforceable and just plain wrong.

The movement is a disturbing trend for Virginia. Hopefully, Virginia’s Second Amendment sanctuary campaign will come to a swift end as people come to their senses.

Read more:

Read a letter in response to this piece: Virginia’s economic concerns can’t be traced to guns and gun owners

John J. Bell: Virginia voters have spoken: It’s time to pass gun-safety legislation

Norman Leahy: Virginia Democrats’ priorities will soon meet the Republican resistance

The Post’s View: Mischief-makers with an agenda promote ‘gun sanctuaries’ in Virginia

The Post’s View: Virginians want more gun control. Their votes for the legislature can make it happen.