WINCHESTER — More than 100 people crammed into City Council chambers and spilled into the lobby of Rouss City Hall on Tuesday to express their support for gun ownership.
"The right to possess this tool is given to me by both the U.S. and Virginia constitutions," said Frederick County resident Scott Wagner, who, like the majority of audience members in the gallery, wore an orange sticker that stated, "Guns Save Lives."
A push to preserve Americans' Second Amendment right to bear firearms has been occurring in recent weeks across Virginia, with advocates asking municipalities to declare themselves sanctuaries from stricter gun laws that are expected to be voted on by the state General Assembly when it convenes next month.
The Frederick County Board of Supervisors was expected to adopt a resolution Wednesday night opposing any law that infringes on the Second Amendment. The governing bodies of Winchester and Clarke County have not indicated if they plan to follow Frederick County's example.
City resident and Army veteran Brandon Angel rallied supporters of the Second Amendment to attend Tuesday night's City Council meeting.
"Virginia does not want these law passed; instead, it is the suburbs of [Washington] D.C.," Angel said as the crowd applauded. "Mental health is the biggest problem in this country, and gangs [are] a close second."
Frederick County resident Cory O'Donnell said the proposed gun laws could lead to government confiscation of legally owned firearms and munitions.
"All members of this council swore an oath to defend the constitution," O'Donnell told City Council.
After hearing from eight people who oppose Virginia's efforts to strengthen gun laws, Mayor David Smith closed the public comment portion of Tuesday's council meeting and did not ask if anyone else in the audience wished to speak.
Afterward, no one on City Council mentioned the Second Amendment sanctuary proposal, and there were no indications that Winchester would consider adopting a resolution similar to the one in Frederick County.
Also at Tuesday night's meeting and work session, City Council:
- Unanimously approved a conditional-use permit to allow O’Reilly Auto Parts to build a store with a slightly pitched roof at 603 Cedar Creek Grade, located in one of Winchester’s corridor-enhancement districts.
- Unanimously approved a one-year extension of a partial tax exemption for Peyton Street Properties LLC regarding a property it is renovating at 6 W. Cecil St.
- Unanimously agreed to forward a proposed public/private partnership with Shenandoah University that would allow the college to manage and make improvements to the baseball and softball fields in Jim Barnett Park.
- Unanimously approved modifications to Winchester’s vacation, holiday and sick leave policies for municipal employees. The vacation and sick leave revisions will not apply to the city's Fire and Rescue Department because its staff works more hours and accrues leave at a different rate than other city employees.
- Voted 8-1 to adopt Winchester's legislative priorities for the 2020 Virginia General Assembly session. Councilor Les Veach opposed the measure due to his opposition to the city's desire to establish a new grievance procedure for employees.
- Unanimously approved an ordinance clarifying that property owners are required to pay water and sewer availability fees before the city issues a building permit.
- Received the findings of an annual audit of the city's comprehensive financial report. Accountant John Aldridge of Partner, Brown, Edwards and Co. LLP said Winchester is in very good economic health.
- Heard a presentation on the duties and responsibilities of the Frederick-Winchester Service Authority.
- Unanimously agreed to forward the proposed appointment of Ronald Mislowsky to a three-year term on the Frederick-Winchester Service Authority, ending Jan. 13, 2023.
- Unanimously agreed to forward the proposed reappointments of Elizabeth Minor and Kimberly Sowers to three-year terms on the Old Town Advancement Commission, ending Jan. 13, 2023, and Mark Loring to a four-year term on the Winchester Planning Commission, ending Jan. 13, 2024.
- Met in executive session for 40 minutes to discuss litigation involving Afresh Church and the scope of the city's legal representation. No action was taken following the closed-door discussions.
Attending Tuesday night’s City Council meeting and work session in Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, Vice President Evan Clark and councilors Kim Herbstritt, John Willingham, Bill Wiley, Corey Sullivan, Judy McKiernan and Les Veach.