WINCHESTER — A Winchester Circuit Court judge has issued injunctions temporarily blocking the city from enforcing portions of the gun ban it adopted last year.
The action stems from a lawsuit initiated on April 21, 2021, that seeks to overturn the ban entirely. The suit was filed against the city of Winchester and its police chief, John Piper, by Loren Wilkerson of Winchester and Brandon Angel of Kearneysville, West Virginia; Winchester business owners Mark Stickley of Runners Retreat and Shannon Nuckols of Mac Shack Express; retail store Stonewall Arms in Winchester; and advocacy organizations Gun Owners of America, Gun Owners Foundation, U.S. Law Shield of Virginia and Virginia Citizens Defense League.
The four advocacy organizations were removed from the lawsuit in November by Winchester Circuit Court Judge William Warner Eldridge IV, but the other five plaintiffs were allowed to continue.
Following a hearing on May 25 and additional arguments on Aug. 4, Eldridge issued a written opinion on Tuesday stating Winchester’s ban on guns in public parks and any place city-permitted events are taking place “violate an individual’s rights” under the 2nd and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 13 of the Constitution of Virginia. Because of that, those sections of the city ordinance cannot be enforced until a final decision on the entire lawsuit is rendered at trial.
However, Eldridge declined to issue injunctions against two other parts of the gun ban that prohibit firearms in any building owned or used by the local government or its agencies. Those sections of the ban can continue to be enforced by the Winchester Police Department pending resolution of the lawsuit.
When asked to comment on the injunctions issued by Eldridge, City Attorney Melisa Michelsen issued a written statement: “The city has received Judge Eldridge’s ruling and is evaluating it. Once [City] Council has a full opportunity to digest and assess the court’s opinion, it will determine what, if any, action is appropriate.”
City Council met Tuesday night but did not discuss the gun ban or the lawsuit. Its next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11.
On Wednesday, Gun Owners of America and Gun Owners Foundation issued a media release taking credit for obtaining the temporary injunctions, even though the two advocacy groups are no longer part of the lawsuit.
Gun Owners of America Senior Vice President Erich Pratt issued a statement that said, in part, “We appreciate Judge Eldridge’s move to enjoin much of this unconstitutional ordinance, and we are confident that we will succeed in fully dismantling this law at trial.”
On Feb. 9, 2021, City Council adopted an ordinance banning guns and ammunition in public parks and on city government-owned property, as well as at public events that were issued permits by Rouss City Hall, including the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. Violations constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.
In June, council considered amending the ban to eliminate the restriction on firearms and bullets at city-permitted events and allow city employees to keep guns and/or ammunition inside locked personal vehicles that are parked on city property. However, the firm that is contracted to provide legal advice to the city, Litten and Sipe of Harrisonburg, advised council last month to hold off on any changes pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
No trial has been scheduled, but the next hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 4 in Winchester Circuit Court.