WINCHESTER — Winchester has declined to join dozens of other Virginia localities regarding passage of a resolution supporting the right of citizens to own and use guns.
During a work session Tuesday night at John Kerr Elementary School, councilors voted 5-4 against creating a resolution stating Winchester’s support of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The city is one of just nine localities in Virginia to reject adoption of such a resolution.
The vote followed party lines. The majority Democrats on City Council — David Smith, Judy McKiernan, Evan Clark, Kim Herbstritt and John Hill — opposed the resolution, while the Republicans — Les Veach, Bill Wiley, John Willingham and Corey Sullivan — favored the measure.
Two additional attempts to massage the language in the proposed resolution met the same fate.
The votes were cast as part of a so-called Second Amendment sanctuary movement that has led thousands of Virginians to petition local governments to formally support gun ownership.
A total of 121 state municipalities have approved resolutions regarding the Second Amendment since November, when gun rights advocates started asking local governments to designate their town, city or county as a sanctuary from proposed firearm regulations being considered by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. Proposed measures currently being considered by the legislature include universal background checks for gun purchases, a ban on assault weapons and so-called “red flag laws” that would enable authorities to temporarily take guns away from people they believe could endanger themselves or others.
It remains to be seen if the local resolutions will carry any weight.
"It is my opinion that these resolutions have no legal effect," Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, wrote on Dec. 20. "It is my further opinion that localities and local constitutional officers cannot nullify state laws and must comply with gun violence prevention measures that the General Assembly may enact."
The local resolutions adopted to date have varied from hardline stances opposing any effort to strengthen gun laws, to general statements of compliance with all laws that are not in direct defiance of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.
On Tuesday, Willingham introduced a resolution for Winchester that was similar to one passed on Jan. 6 by the city of Virginia Beach, which designated itself a "constitutional city" that supports "the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms." The Virginia Beach City Council also urged the General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam "to take no action which would violate the freedoms guaranteed by either the Virginia Bill of Rights or the federal Bills or Rights."
Winchester’s City Council members were united in saying they would uphold their oath of office to defend the state and federal constitutions, but were uncomfortable passing a resolution encouraging law enforcement officers to ignore laws not supported by the city.
Councilors suggested that supporters of gun rights contact their state legislators to share their concerns, reminding the approximately 50 people in attendance that City Council cannot create policies that defy constitutional laws.
Tuesday night marked the third time that Second Amendment supporters addressed Winchester's City Council about adopting a possible resolution. Turnout was so strong at the prior two meetings in November and December that city officials decided to move Tuesday's session from Rouss City Hall to the larger auditorium at John Kerr Elementary School.
The Frederick County and Clarke County governing bodies recently adopted resolutions supporting gun rights. On Tuesday night, Berryville Town Council approved one as well.
For more, see Thursday’s edition of The Winchester Star.