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‘2nd Amendment Sanctuaries’ Push Back on Proposed New Gun Laws

Gun rights advocate Philip Van Cleave
Gun rights advocate Philip Van Cleave speaks at a July 9 rally on Capitol Square. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

A growing number of Virginia localities are passing resolutions declaring themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” in the wake of Democrats’ election wins.

The moves are part of a national trend that seeks to express dissatisfaction with, and possibly outright ignore state-level gun control legislation.

It’s still unclear what, if any, legal consequences the new resolutions have.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” said Tim Zick, a professor of constitutional law at the College of William and Mary.

Democrats ran heavily on a platform of adding new restrictions on guns, citing repeating mass shootings and the mounting toll of suicides. That platform is now being translated into legislation ahead of January’s session, where they’ll control both chambers for the first time since 1995.

At least seven Virginia counties have passed resolutions after the November 5 elections, with others expected soon, according to the gun rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL). The organization has circulated a model resolution for other counties.

In a recent email to members, the group’s president, Philip Van Cleave, cited Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s reaction to the bombing Pearl Harbor: "I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

“Yes, that is exactly what Pearl Harbor did,” Van Cleave said. “And that's exactly what shoving gun control down our throats will do, too!”

Pittsylvania and Dinwiddie County’s Board of Supervisors both passed resolutions on Tuesday. The Dinwiddie resolution stuck closely to the VCDL’s model, ending with a warning:

“The Board of Supervisors hereby declares its intent to oppose unconstitutional restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms through such legal means as may be expedient, including, without limitation, court action,” the resolution says.

William Chivas, chairman of the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors, said he added the resolution to the agenda after numerous calls from constituents. But he downplayed any action the county might take to defy future gun control bills from the General Assembly.

“We just speak out and tell them how we feel,” Chivas said. “And whatever [lawmakers] decide to do is what they do.”

Van Cleave said local sheriffs might see the resolutions as impetus to ignore gun laws they thought violated the 2nd Amendment.

“Police are not required to enforce unconstitutional laws,” he said in an interview.

Tim Zick, the law professor, said that was far from clear. While law enforcement has broad discretion to enforce laws, there’s no clear legal precedent on whether they could ignore them entirely -- or whether they could face lawsuits from victims of gun violence if they chose to do so.

“It does depend on what a sanctuary means since there's no legal meaning to that or universal meaning,” Zick said.

Sheriffs who defy the General Assembly may face headwind from Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring. His press secretary, Charlotte Gomer, agreed that it was unclear what the sanctuaries were or what they were hoping to accomplish.

“If the Virginia Citizens Defense League is circulating it, you can bet it’s a bad idea,” Gomer said. “If the General Assembly passes new gun safety laws, as Virginia voters demanded just two weeks ago, we expect that everyone will follow the law and keep their citizens safe.”

Dinwiddie County Sheriff D.T. “Duck” Adams said he wasn’t sure what actions he would take if Democrats in the General Assembly passed past gun control proposals, which include red flag laws, universal background checks, and a ban on assault weapons.

“I haven’t really given a whole lot of thought,” Adams said on Wednesday.

Charlotte County, Campbell County, Carroll County, Appomattox County, Patrick County, Pittsylvania County, and Dinwiddie County have all passed second amendment sanctuary resolutions, according to the VCDL.


Ben Paviour covers state politics for VPM News with a focus on accountability journalism.