Gun rights issue packs council chambers

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Heather Bell

RADFORD – The crowd at Monday’s Radford City Council meeting packed the house, but it was not an item on the agenda that brought out the citizens.

Rather, it was the potential of a change in state law that had citizens asking city council to take measures to stop the proposed legislation from affecting people in Radford.

The upcoming session of the General Assembly does not begin until January, but several items of legislation have already been proposed. One proposed state Senate Bill is SB 16, which states the following in its current iteration as introduced by Richard L. Saslaw, a District 35 Democrat who represents Alexandria City, Fairfax County, and Falls Church City.

“SB 16 Assault firearms and certain firearm magazines; prohibiting sale, transport, etc., penalties. Prohibiting sale, transport, etc., of assault firearms and certain firearm magazines; penalties. Expands the definition of “assault firearm” and prohibits any person from importing, selling, transferring, manufacturing, purchasing, possessing, or transporting an assault firearm. A violation is a Class 6 felony. The bill prohibits a dealer from selling, renting, trading, or transferring from his inventory an assault firearm to any person. The bill also prohibits a person from carrying a shotgun with a magazine that will hold more than seven rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered in a public place; under existing law, this prohibition applies only in certain localities. The bill makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to import, sell, barter, or transfer any firearm magazine designed to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.”

Second amendment supporters throughout the state have been lobbying their local governing bodies to pass resolutions designating individual localities as sanctuary cities that would not abide by the proposed legislation. Many of those supporters have voiced that while such resolutions would likely not hold up in court, they would send a message to state legislators and perhaps forestall or negate the possibility of such legislation passing.

Many people concerned about the proposed state legislation, as well as some who are in favor of such legislation, spoke during the citizen comment portion of Monday’s city council meeting. Due to the large crowd, speakers were asked to sign up to speak and were called down to the podium in the order in which they signed up. Each speaker was given two minutes.

Radford resident Seth Criner, a mental health professional in his 20’s, was first to speak.

“I am speaking to you today in favor of the motion to declare Radford City a Second Amendment sanctuary,”said Criner. “ Perhaps on the right and the left and we may have been blinded by unquestioned allegiance to one party or another. We have allowed our hearts to overrule our logic. Atrocities like what occurred with the shooting in VA Beach are just that, atrocities and acts of unspeakable evil and disregard for human life. However, the presence of acts like this one should not cause us to believe that forfeiting our own rights to protection will somehow remedy the problem.”

“Unfortunately, this very thing is happening in our state and some think that to not give up our right to bear arms or to at the very least water it down significantly would in some way say that we are turning a blind eye,”he continued.

Approximately 25 people spoke on the issue, with about one-fourth against Radford passing a sanctuary city resolution and two-fourths for.

Carol Colby spoke against such a resolution.predominantly, she said, because it is not the correct political process for changing legislation and would not make a difference to enforcement of a law passed by the state.

“This is a highly irregular use of our city council’s time,” she added.

Council member Robert Gropman made a motion for council to adopt such a resolution. No other member of city council seconded the motion so there was no vote taken. Prior to making the motion, Gropman explained why he feels passage of SB 16 would be the wrong course of action for the state legislature to take.

“With the stroke of a pen, some Richmond lawmakers are attempting to classify 2 and a half million Virginians and thousands of Radford citizens as felons overnight, which is an outright obscenity,” he said. “I fully recognize the resolutions [declaring a locality a second amendment sanctuary city]are largely just a political statement and may not hold up in a court of law. But it sends a message to the governor that he cannot just moonwalk over the United States constitution.”

Following the meeting,Radford Mayor David Horton released a statement about the night’s events on his personal Facebook page.

One of the big categories of the evening discussion was the concerns our citizens have with guns and the Second Amendment,”he wrote. “We did not create a resolution for Sanctuary City status in Radford. This does not mean that we do not support your rights as a citizen here. I do support your rights – First Amendment, Second Amendment and beyond. What I cannot support is really bad policy that can send a false message to our citizens and create liability for our community. I also cannot support circumventing the process we have established as a Commonwealth or as a Nation for making laws and determining if they are in line with our Constitution. I will proudly stand behind the fact that the City of Radford will not support laws that have been proven unconstitutional through the legal process. This is protection of  your Constitution at its core.”

“Process is important in laws, regulations and ordinances, and I will not be able to support a motion that is to take a sample resolution and just change a few words to say Radford,” he continued. “We do not operate that way as a City Council. Our precedence is to draft a resolution if we are to offer it for consideration, share it with Council Members prior to the meeting and vet it through our legal representation.  The motion for a resolution offered tonight was not run through our practice.

“We will represent the views of the citizens of Radford to our Representatives in State Government. All of the views that were presented tonight, those of our citizen speakers as well as those of Council, are being sent to Delegate Hurst and Senator Chafin. Through that we are ensuring that your voice is heard by decision makers in the General Assembly and defending your rights. We are urging our State Government to take the concerns of all of its Citizens very seriously as they move legislation through the process.”