WINCHESTER — Stating they have already sworn to uphold and protect the constitution, members of Winchester's City Council on Tuesday voted against adopting a resolution that would pledge to uphold local residents' right to own guns.
Since November, tens of thousands of Virginians have been asking their local government leaders to designate localities as Second Amendment sanctuaries because they believe proposed new laws being considered by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly in Richmond would infringe on their right to buy guns for legal purposes, such as hunting or self-protection.
Government leaders in 130 of the state's counties, cities and towns — including Frederick County, Clarke County and Berryville — have adopted resolutions in support of gun rights.
Only 11 municipalities in Virginia, including Winchester, have voted against a resolution or declined to take action on one.
Local supporters of Second Amendment sanctuaries turned out in large numbers at Winchester City Council meetings in November and December. Anticipating an even greater number of people at Tuesday's work session, officials moved the meeting from council chambers in Rouss City Hall to the auditorium at John Kerr Elementary School.
As it turned out, only about 50 people attended, and about a third of them were there to oppose the creation of a Second Amendment resolution.
"None of these proposed laws infringe on the Second Amendment rights of anyone," resolution opponent Ann Bacon of Winchester said to a smattering of applause from the audience.
"Are we suggesting that people disobey the law because we're a sanctuary city? That seems dangerous," Bill Fuller of Winchester said.
Those who support Second Amendment sanctuaries argued that guns keep communities safe.
"If we legal gun owners are such a danger to society, why have these meetings been so peaceful?" asked Mark Stickley of Winchester.
"It is our right to protect ourselves," Jennifer Turman Bayliss of Winchester said.
Brandon Angel of Winchester said Virginians won't stand for having their Second Amendment rights trampled by what he considers unconstitutional changes to existing gun laws.
"There is going to be blood shed on both sides," Angel said. "People will rebel."
The nine members of City Council — five Democrats and four Republicans — said they would not support becoming a sanctuary city, but they did consider a proposal to proclaim Winchester a city that respects and defends the constitutions and bills of rights of the United States and Virginia.
"It doesn't require asking our administrators and law enforcement to ignore laws," Councilor John Willingham, a Republican, said about his motion to make Winchester a so-called constitutional city that supports the Second Amendment, following an example set by Virginia Beach on Jan. 6.
"I work every day with children," Democratic Councilor Judy McKiernan, an administrator with Winchester Public Schools, said during Tuesday's work session. "Are we ready to tell them, 'I don't like that rule, so I'm not going to follow it'?"
Several councilors, including Democrat Kim Herbstritt and Republican Bill Wiley, said a resolution pledging to uphold constitutional laws would be redundant because, when council members were sworn into office, they swore to do just that.
"We're bound by that oath," Wiley said.
Republican Councilor Les Veach said he would go along with the constitutional city resolution if it included a line calling on Richmond to fund enforcement of any new gun regulations.
"The unfunded mandates we get from the state have a crippling effect on us," Veach said.
Mayor David Smith, a Democrat, said he grew up in a rough neighborhood where his mother was once shot, but he opposed the resolution because of what it could do to Winchester's economy if businesses and tourists start avoiding the city due to its perceived advocacy for gun ownership.
"Once you start putting labels on yourself," Smith said, "you discourage people from coming to the city."
Although all nine councilors rejected the idea of making Winchester a sanctuary city, the four Republican members still supported a constitutional city resolution. However, none of the five Democrats were willing to support the measure, which brought an end to the discussion.
Wiley told audience members that a resolution would be a moot point anyway because Winchester cannot create gun laws.
"The people who are legislating [in Richmond] are the ones who should be hearing this," he said.
Attending Tuesday night's City Council work session at John Kerr Elementary School were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, Vice President Evan Clark and councilors John Willingham, Kim Herbstritt, Les Veach, Judy McKiernan, Bill Wiley and Corey Sullivan.