Virginia counties declare gun sanctuaries, but experts say they ‘don’t have force of law’

A wave of resolutions have been passed in Virginia counties, declaring sanctuaries and constitutional havens in support of the Second Amendment as a new Democratic majority prepares to take over the state General Assembly in January.

But what do they really mean?

“I think it’s a form of political protest,” said Richard Schragger, Perre Bowen professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law. “Obviously, it’s caught a certain amount of fire in Virginia.”

This week, Prince William and Spotsylvania counties became some of the latest to pass resolutions affirming their commitment to residents’ rights to keep and carry guns.

In the end, Prince William’s resolution may be short-lived and is likely to be reversed when a new board of supervisors led by Democrats takes control in the county, according to a statement from incoming supervisor Ann Wheeler that was made days before that vote.

Fauquier County seems poised to pass its own resolution in support of gun rights in the coming days. After a public comment period that lasted more than four hours Thursday night and amid concerns about the resolution’s wording, the county’s board decided to delay the vote on their resolution in support of Second Amendment rights until Dec. 23.

“I think there’s a lot of, maybe, misunderstandings about what the impact of these statements, these resolutions that are being adopted, will do,” said Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. “They are nothing more than position statements. They don’t have the force of law.”

Fauquier County is looking ahead to the upcoming General Assembly session in Virginia, when a Democratic majority will be in place for the first time in more than 20 years. Near the end of Thursday’s hours-long board meeting, Christopher Granger of Center District promised follow-through to put some teeth behind their resolution.

“When the General Assembly goes into session and for the entirety of the 90 days, Fauquier County will have a lobbyist in the halls of Richmond,” Granger said during the meeting.

Professor Schragger said that if gun laws that may be perceived as over restrictive of gun rights do pass, “those laws are enforced and citizens have to abide by them.”

“There’s no ability for citizens in any of these Second Amendment sanctuaries to assert that they don’t have to comply with state law,” Schragger said.

“The sheriffs and local officers have to comply with state law, and the state police will enforce state law,” Schragger added.

Meanwhile, Schrad said it may be too soon for alarm.

“The session hasn’t started, so it is too early to be concerned,” said Schrad. “I’m a former legislative attorney myself, so I’ve watched the process from the inside, as well as from the outside. I know that they [lawmakers] take great care through their legislative counsel, through the committee process to make sure that constitutionality is, first and foremost, inherent in all the legislation that’s passed.”

But that’s totally different than passing unpopular bills.

“My guess is there will be some bills passed that are not popular with some gun advocacy groups,” Schrad said. “But I cannot perceive the General Assembly actually letting a bill leave that body and go through the governor’s office and someone not raise an issue of constitutionality if, in fact, it is a viable concern.”

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