For the second time in as many meetings, the Orange County Board of Supervisors got a heavy dose of “Second Amendment sanctuary” remarks during its public comment period last Tuesday evening.
Only this time, they heard a number of dissenting voices.
At the Dec. 3 board meeting, nearly 50 people among hundreds of supporters spoke in favor of Orange County joining other rural counties across the state in becoming a “Second Amendment sanctuary.” Only one county resident spoke out against the effort.
The movement is in response to pre-filed General Assembly legislation that could toughen gun ownership laws, background checks and add “red flag” laws to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illness.
Ultimately, the board voted 4-1 adopting a resolution urging the governor and General Assembly to focus on laws that would reduce weapons in the hands of convicted felons and people with mental health issues, while carefully respecting and protecting the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Virginians who use firearms in protection of their homes, lives and families and for sporting and hunting purposes. Board members further resolved to declare Orange County as “Second Amendment sanctuary,” committing to do everything within their legal and constitutional power to defend the Second Amendment rights of Orange County citizens.
District 5 Supervisors Lee Frame cast the dissenting vote, taking issue with the sanctuary designation.
Last week, 13 county citizens spoke in support of the resolution. Some expressed disappointment the board didn’t adopt a stronger resolution. Others thanked the board for passing the resolution.
Nine spoke either against the board’s action, the way the last public comment period was organized or in favor of tougher gun laws.
Orange resident Terry Anderson, a gun owner and former Marine, offered an alternative resolution for the board’s consideration.
“The board recognizes no single right granted by our constitution outweighs another; that each must be viewed in balance with all others and that balance is struck within our legislative and court systems and nowhere else,” he read. “Above all is the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness stated in our Declaration of Independence. When the assertion of any constitutional right threatens that unalienable first right, reasonable regulation is justified and necessary,” he continued. “Our right to free speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion have all been justly limited by our courts.
“We recognize the limitations on the Second Amendment are a highly controversial matter. It is up to our legislature and courts to decide what measures are appropriate and constitutional. After that process is done, our duty is clear. We have sworn to uphold the law and the constitutions of Virginia and the United States. We shall do so.”
“A large crowd does not constitute a democracy,” he told the board, asking them to consider his proposed resolution that “more fairly represents the variety of opinion in this county.”
Following Anderson, six more speakers spoke out against the board’s previous resolution.
Alfred Niemi of Rapidan said he was a gun owner who believes in the rule of law. He suggested the proposed resolution put the county “above the state legislature,” and said it was dangerous to encourage citizens not to support laws.
Eileen Freeland read a letter from her neighbor, who said she recently saw a man openly carrying a weapon on his hip in the grocery store. “I didn’t think of how him having a gun made me feel safe. His gun scared me. How is his right to carry a gun more valid than my right to feel safe?” Freeland read. “No single right outweighs another.”
“All rights have restrictions because they’re often in conflict with other rights,” JoAnne Speiden of Somerset said. “There are limitations on free speech; zoning ordinances are restrictions on rights. Why should the Second Amendment have no restrictions?” She pointed to the notice of the board meeting that specifically banned firearms on school property as a limitation. “There are acceptable limits on the Second Amendment,” she said, calling for discussions of common sense regulations that would be reasonable and protect all rights.
Virginia Rockwell told the board “words matter,” and defined a sanctuary as “a place of refuge or safety or protection, a consecrated place, the holiest of holies or most sacred part of a place of worship.” She requested the board remove “sanctuary” from its resolution. “Guns are things,” she said. “They don’t need our protection. Children and people do.”
Melodee Ashley, who spoke at the Dec. 3 public comment session, thanked the board for its resolution. “I don’t think anyone in this room disagrees we need sensible gun laws, but the ones being considered are unconstitutional,” she said. “The ‘Second Amendment sanctuary’ says we won’t support unconstitutional gun laws.”
Lloyd “Doc” Garnett of Rapidan also thanked the board and said he felt the language in its resolution could have been stronger.
“Orange County citizens of all walks of life support the idea that our board of supervisors would stand up for us that the Constitution is paramount. We support the rights we do but do not want them unlawfully mitigated by legislation.”
“Just because the General Assembly passes legislation doesn’t mean they are legal,” he continued. “The Constitution and Bill of Rights do not grant us rights—they acknowledge our liberties. The framers believed our right came from God, our creator. … They do not come from the General Assembly or Gov. Northam or the Constution. They are no one’s to take away from us.”
Steve Reuss, also of Rapidan, said as a former soldier, he fought for liberty and freedom for all people—Democrats and Republicans—and said he doesn’t like it when the Constitution gets used for political means. “Don’t come to the county trying to take weapons from our citizens,” he said. “We need to talk more about this and this is a county where we can do that.”
Michael Kevin Murphy, a Vietnam veteran and lawyer who lives in Unionville, said he’s reviewed the pre-filed bills and believes they are unconstitutional.
He said George Mason insisted on including the Second Amendment in the Constitution.
“We had good reason to believe whenever government comes to control us, whether we call them our representatives or not, we cannot give them the power to take our lives away either through a standing army or by prohibiting us from keeping weapons. It wasn’t about shooting; everyone had a gun. It was to preserve for each and every American the right to maintain arms as a safeguard against any government from its overweening power over us,” he said.
Steve Colvin, of Barboursville, thanked the board for its support of the resolution and being “smart enough to know your own constituency.” Though Colvin avidly supported the board’s action, he said he respected Frame for voting against the board’s resolution. Colvin said those who came out Dec. 3 and Dec. 17 in support of the resolution “are not all of us,” and labeled the local movement “the Orange County militia.”
“We brought a light crowd tonight,” he said, “but if we need to, we can come back.”
“We don’t own guns to kill people,” Raleigh Timmons, the final speaker, said. “We’re good people.”
The audience, which spilled out of the Gordon Building meeting room and into the hallway, generally was respectful, despite some clear (and occasionally audible) differences of opinion.
Following the public comment period, District 1 Supervisor Mark Johnson thanked those in attendance and said, “It’s important for any legislative body to hear from the public and what the citizens feel about things. Nothing bad comes from hearing as many opinions as possible and getting as much input as possible.”
District 5 Supervisor Frame said citizens on both sides had behaved courteously and expressed strong feelings. “I appreciate we can have this type of dialogue in a place like this and still respect everybody,” he said to widespread applause.
In a rare light-hearted moment at the conclusion of an emotionally charged hour, District 4 Supervisor Jim Crozier began to speak only to be interrupted by the three-minute timer buzzer notifying citizens their time had expired. Nearly everyone in the room erupted in laughter.
The board took no action and adjourned.