WINCHESTER — Last week's deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., has government agencies across the country questioning the safety of their employees and facilities.
Winchester's City Council is expected to initiate a discussion tonight on whether citizens should be banned from carrying firearms and ammunition into any city government building, property or event.
"This is something councilors have been discussing since last year when the state Legislature passed a law enabling us to do it," City Manager Dan Hoffman said on Monday about the proposal. "The conversation didn't start because of what happened last week, but it definitely drove home the importance of getting this in place."
On July 1, Section 15.2-915(E) of the Code of Virginia was enacted to allow any locality in the commonwealth to prohibit citizens from bringing guns or ammunition into any location where government-sanctioned activities are taking place.
According to the measure expected to be introduced to City Council tonight, "this ordinance would prohibit the possession of firearms in all city government buildings including [Rouss] City Hall, the Creamery Building, the War Memorial Building [in Jim Barnett Park], the Department of Social Services building, the Timbrook Public Safety Center and Annex building, City Yards and any other building owned by, or being used by, the city for governmental purposes. It would also apply to any city public park and certain public rights-of-way in connection to permitted events."
The prohibition would apply to every citizen, even those who have been issued concealed-carry permits for firearms, with the exception of sworn law-enforcement personnel, active-duty military performing official duties, security personnel contracted by the city, museum displays, historical re-enactors, Senior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program personnel or any intercollegiate athletics programs involving the use of firearms.
Violations would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.
Hoffman said he is not aware of any recent situations where a person carrying a firearm presented a threat to city personnel or people attending a city-permitted event.
"As city manager, the safety of staff and employees here is always my utmost concern," he said. "Any possibility that something could happen similar to what happened last week weighs heavily on my mind."
City Council is scheduled to discuss the proposed firearm restriction at its work session tonight, which begins immediately after the panel's regular business meeting at 6 p.m. Due to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's pandemic-released restriction on large gatherings, the meeting and work session will be conducted virtually and streamed live on Winchester's YouTube page, youtube.com/user/CityOfWinchesterVA.