By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: November 20, 2019 | 1:06 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – A near-capacity crowd of Dinwiddie residents made their way to the county board of supervisors meeting Wednesday evening in support of the passage of a resolution that affirms the county’s position as being a supporter of the Second Amendment as gun owners in the county expressed concerns about what the future holds with lawmakers set to return to Richmond for the 2020 General Assembly session, where firearms are expected to be one of a host of topics discussed in both Democratic-controlled chambers.
On a 4-0 vote, with an abstention from Supervisor Brenda Ebron-Bonner, county leaders approved a resolution that stands to demonstrate the board’s “deep commitment to the rights of all citizens of Dinwiddie County to keep and bear arms” and their formal “opposition to any law that would unconstitutionally restrict the rights under the Second Amendment” of local residents and gun owners.
In the resolution, which, according to County Administrator Kevin Massengill, is similar to resolutions passed in the counties of Carroll, Campbell, Patrick, and Appomattox, supervisors said it is their belief that some legislation introduced during both the most recent General Assembly session this year and the current session of Congress “could have the effect of infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.”
In addition, the resolution went on to say that the county intends to “stand as a Sanctuary County for Second Amendment rights and to oppose” within the limits of the U.S Constitution and state law, “any efforts to unconstitutionally restrict such rights, and to use such legal means at its disposal to protect the constitutional rights of the citizens to keep and bear arms, including through legal action, the power of appropriation of public funds, and the right to petition for redress of grievances.”
It was standing room only inside the Dinwiddie County boardroom Wednesday as supervisors adopted a resolution supporting the Second Amendment, citing concerns from residents and legislation introduced during the most recent General Assembly session and current session of Congress. (Michael Campbell)
Through their action Wednesday, supervisors also stated that they do not want public funds of Dinwiddie used “to unconstitutionally restrict Second Amendment rights or to aid in the unconstitutional restriction of the rights under the Second Amendment” for county residents to bear arms.
The conversation surrounding gun reform has been ongoing for several years in the Commonwealth but was propelled into the foreground following the deadly workplace shooting at Virginia Beach’s municipal building in May that left 12 people dead, leading to a special session of the General Assembly being called in July by Governor Ralph Northam. That session lasted less than two hours before being adjourned without any bills being considered.
Months later, it would become a key part of the most recent election, which saw Democrats gain control of both chambers of the General Assembly – the State Senate and House of Delegates – for the first time in over two decades and, in the hours after this month’s election, gun reform was one of the topics Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker said was on their agenda going forward.
“Virginia voters made it clear that the time is now for common-sense gun violence prevention, a raise in the minimum wage, the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and all the progressive reforms we campaigned so hard on this year,” she said in a statement earlier this month.
According to Massengill, county staff were directed to draft the resolution at the request of Chairman William Chavis, who shared his thoughts on why he asked for its creation after Wednesday’s meeting.
“We just want to take a stance for my citizens that we stand firm on the Second Amendment,” he said. “We support it. My constituents called me and they were concerned about it. I am the chairman, so I put it on the agenda to see if it would pass. I didn’t know if it would pass or not. That is what you do, you listen to the citizens and that is what I did.”
“Dinwiddie County is a firm believer in the Second Amendment. We stand hard on it,” Chavis continued.
Supervisors vice-chair Daniel Lee echoed Chavis’ comments, adding that the resolution is important for the county heading into the upcoming session of the General Assembly as it will be appended to Dinwiddie’s legislative priorities, which are distributed to the county’s delegation of delegates and senators.
“We don’t know what is going to happen, but we do need to be very aware of what could happen,” he said, pledging to and encouraging residents to speak to their state-level representatives about bills that are being considered once the session begins in January.
“Each one of you sitting here tonight, if you are here for this resolution, is to contact your representative, too, and make sure your voice is heard,” Lee continued. “And make sure any bills that are passed, you feel like they are passed correctly and you feel like you can live with the content of those bills. I think this is a good time for us to do it now. I am certainly in support of this and it is just the beginning of what we are trying to do.”
Longtime supervisor Harrison Moody also supported the resolution, while noting Virginia operates as a “Dillon Rule” state, meaning counties and cities can’t pass any laws that the Commonwealth has not explicitly given them authority to do so.
“Some laws we can pass that they have given us the authority to but, as far as guns go, we don’t have any authority to pass new legislation unless the state tells us we can,” he explained. “We have a right to make a stand about how we feel about the Second Amendment and we did that tonight.”
While none of the board’s five members voted against the resolution, Supervisor Ebron-Bonner opted to abstain, not voting for or against it, detailing prior to the vote that she does support the Second Amendment but she has also received concerns from those living in her district about gun violence and the need for some kind of reform.
“I do support Second Amendment rights and I also have to listen to citizens who call me about concerns,” she shared, noting her experience of working at Central State Hospital for over three decades. “I have dealt with people who have done some pretty awful things and what my citizens have shared with me, while they also believe in Second Amendment rights, the other part of that equation is they have had family members who have had some awful problems and they were able to get purchase weapons. I think that is the biggest concern for them.”
“I have to listen to what they would like to say,” Bonner elaborated. “They are not saying to take away weapons or anything of the sort but they would like to strengthen background checks for individuals who may have real problems who may decide to take it out on other people, as well as family, or themselves.”
Dinwiddie supervisors chat with residents following Wednesday’s meeting where county leaders voted to adopt a resolution affirming their support for the Second Amendment. (Michael Campbell)
Resident Brandon Chester was one of several locals who spoke in support of the county’s adoption of the resolution, saying, in part, “As a career law enforcement officer, I couldn’t imagine being asked to go take people’s firearms from their house, it’s chilling.”
He also spoke to concerns brought up by constituents in Bonner’s district regarding background checks, remarking that current regulations – which, according to Virginia State Police, see those who visit a federally-licensed gun dealer to purchase a firearm being required to complete a form that includes a question that asks the purchaser if they have ever been committed to a mental health facility, be it voluntarily or involuntarily – make it so a buyer can decide to not share that mental health information on the form.
“The problem is, if you don’t volunteer that information, there is no way for them to find out, mainly because of HIPPA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act],” Chester said. “There is no database where you can find out if I have been voluntarily or involuntarily admitted because of patient rights protections so, that is where the mental health issue becomes one that is going to be hard for us to get over because, if I go buy a gun and lie on that form, the only way they are going to find out is on the back-end if I become a problem and they say, ‘Well, this guy spent six weeks at Central State. How did we not know this?’ It’s because we can’t ask anybody.”
Rosa Wells shared Chester’s sentiments, praising county leaders for the resolution’s passage while adding not enough is being done in regard to mental health within the county and across the Commonwealth.
“Guns are not the problem, Central State Hospital and shutting it down was the problem,” she remarked. “Checking that box is not the problem, the problem is we don’t do enough mental health in this county or in this state. So look into what this state is doing mental health-wise. If you want to look at the opioid crisis and all this other stuff, let’s look at what the state of Virginia and our county is doing for the mental health of some of these people.”
During Wednesday’s public comments, no one voiced opposition to the county’s action to stand as a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” with Chairman Chavis pleased to see residents standing with the county on the topic.
“I made me feel good and I did this because the citizens came to me and wanted me to put it on the agenda for us to accept it,” he remarked. “When you put something on the agenda, you don’t know what [other supervisors] are going to do so, that is my job as chairman, to do what I think is right.”
The resolution will be forwarded alongside the county’s legislative agenda for the upcoming General Assembly session to Dinwiddie’s state-level representatives, Senator Frank Ruff (R – 15), Senator-Elect Joe Morrissey (D – 16), and Delegate Lashrecse Aird (D-63).
Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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