Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Henrico approves ban on firearms in government buildings

Van Cleave plays music off of his phone
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Philip Van Cleave, president of Virginia Citizens Defense League, plays a song before giving remarks during Lobby Day on Monday, January 15, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia.

Guns, ammunition not permitted in county libraries, recreation centers, government buildings.

The Henrico County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance Tuesday prohibiting the possession of firearms and ammunition in government facilities. Firearms are no longer allowed in county libraries, recreation centers and other buildings.

The measure was unanimously approved after a public hearing when a number of residents voiced their opposition to the proposed measure. John Ring, who said he’s had a concealed carry permit for around 15 years, was among the speakers.

“This is a solution in search of a problem, and in fact, it creates problems,” Ring told the board. “I ask that we step back and use some common sense, because there’s no justification for this.”

Ring was one of many speakers who characterized the ordinance as unlawful, although Virginia Code allows localities to adopt an ordinance prohibiting the possession of firearms.

That section of code was amended by the General Assembly in April 2020. Seventeen other localities have adopted similar gun ordinances since then, according to Andrew Newby, Henrico County’s attorney.

“In 2020, the law changed and gave localities the permissive authority to prohibit firearms [at] county buildings, recreation facilities, parks and certain streets during public events,” Newby said. “The ordinance that the Board of Supervisors adopted this evening only applies in county buildings and county recreation facilities.”

Newby said county staff and residents have reported a number of recent instances when they’ve felt uncomfortable as a result of people carrying firearms at Henrico facilities.

One of these instances occurred in September 2023, when three men were arrested in Henrico and charged in connection with a number of illegal activities.

Ron Hedlund and William Barthel — two of the men arrested — were also the subject of a protective order restricting them from protesting inside government facilities, at parks and outside the county manager's home. Neither of the men reside in Henrico.

In court documents obtained by VPM News, County Manager John Vithoulkas claimed Hedlund and Barthel entered Henrico government building while armed on several occasions and behaved in an intimidating or threatening manner.

Evidence included video clips of armed protests outside county property and at Vithoulkas’ residence.

Vithoulkas’ affidavit included the following: “I am constantly worried when I am in work settings that this hatred directed towards me is going to result in violence in our county government buildings and threaten the safety of the entire county, the community and our county employees.”

Still, Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, objected to the county’s effort to limit the ability of Virginia residents to carry guns on government property.

“I think you’re fixing a problem that you don’t really have,” Van Cleave told the board. “I don’t know what triggered this, other than you had some concerns. Well, concern isn’t enough to throw away my civil rights.”

Van Cleave later voiced his disappointment in the county’s decision to pass the ordinance, despite opposition from the public. He said VCDL might explore legal action against the county — as it's done in Winchester and Roanoke counties.

“Henrico would just be another one that we would probably come after,” Van Cleave said, "Because there's no way they could justify, like banning guns in the library. No way. … It's a very disappointing outcome.”

The ban applies to the general public, but not military personnel and sworn law enforcement officers acting in official capacities, and other exempted individuals — such as law enforcement or security personnel, among others.

Signs providing notice that firearms and ammunition are not permitted are also being placed at the entrances to county buildings.

“You're already prohibited from carrying a firearm in federal buildings, you're already prohibited from carrying firearms in state buildings, you're already prohibited from carrying firearms in local courthouses and polling places and schools,” Newby, the Henrico attorney, said. “So, this ordinance just fills in that last little gap of the county.”

A violation of the new gun restriction could result in being charged with a class two misdemeanor or a class one misdemeanor, if there’s an intent to intimidate or harass another person.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
Related Stories