In Virginia, the movement has lately become a fad, spurred by legislative election results that will, starting in January, hand pro-gun control Democrats control of both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation. With a Democrat also in the governor’s mansion, some rural Republicans are raising the specter of mass gun confiscations — and pronouncing themselves Second Amendment Sanctuaries.
The idea — and the term itself — has gained traction in Western states and elsewhere, inspired by “sanctuary cities” that have adopted policies barring cooperation with federal immigration officials to deport unauthorized migrants.
The distinction between the two sanctuaries is basic. Localities that have passed resolutions declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuary jurisdictions are threatening to ignore laws enacted by duly elected state legislatures and signed by governors. Immigration-focused sanctuary localities are breaking no law; rather, they are refusing purely voluntary cooperation in service to federal law enforcement. And, in practice, sanctuary cities often do — and should — fully coordinate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in cases involving violent felons such as murderers and rapists.
In Virginia, local governing bodies in a few dozen Appalachian southwest and central Piedmont counties have passed or are considering resolutions declaring themselves gun sanctuaries. In many, longtime gun owners are hunters who say their way of life is threatened by liberal lawmakers in Richmond.
This is nonsense fanned by mischief-makers with an agenda. In fact, the gun legislation with the best chance of passage would promote public safety by requiring universal background checks — a measure with overwhelming bipartisan support among Virginians in public opinion surveys. Other bills with broad support would limit the number and types of weapons that can be sold. For instance, by restricting handgun purchases by individuals to one per month — an anti-trafficker measure that was the law in Virginia for 20 years before it was repealed in 2012.
The only cases in which gun confiscation could take place would be if the legislature enacts a “red flag” bill, which would allow law enforcement authorities to take away firearms from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others. Such laws, which have received bipartisan support in many states, generally depend on an order from a judge who would consider evidence presented in court.
Local authorities who refuse such orders would be thumbing their noses not just at state law but also at judicial orders — and they should be removed from office and prosecuted. Short of that, however, the gun sanctuary movement seems mainly symbolic, another manifestation of growing division in an increasingly tribal nation.