In a massive show of support for gun rights, a crowd overflowed the Amherst County administration building during the board of supervisors’ Nov. 19 meeting demanding Amherst become a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” county.

The declaration would be a symbolic stance from county officials to ensure the rights of law-abiding citizens to have and bear firearms for the purposes of “lawful self-defense, community defense, and hunting, as protected by the United States and Virginia Constitutions” according to the draft resolution before supervisors. The board took no action so it can further review the document’s language and it is expected to pass a resolution supporting the sanctuary declaration possibly at its Dec. 3 meeting, Chairman Jimmy Ayers said.

The board joined several other localities in taking up the Second Amendment Sanctuary matter in recent weeks. Campbell and Appomattox counties passed resolutions declaring themselves a sanctuary for the Second Amendment, which many residents feel is necessary following the Nov. 5 election and a shift in the state legislature from Republican to Democratic leadership.

The draft resolution urges state and federal lawmakers and agencies not to adopt, accept or enact any regulation that would infringe on the constitutional right to bear arms and said the board is concerned certain legislation planned for introduction in the 2020 General Assembly session and certain legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress “may have the effect of infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens to bear arms.”

The crowd for the Amherst board’s Nov. 19 meeting spilled out into the hallway and into the parking lot. All who gathered in the standing-room-only meeting raised their hands when asked if they support the sanctuary measure.

Steve Martin, owner of Martin’s Body and Paint Shop in Amherst, said he saw a lot of friends in the crowd who, like himself, have ancestors in the county dating back to the Revolutionary War. “A lot of those ancestors have fought and died for this Second Amendment right to bear arms and it would be a shame and a disgrace to not keep their honor and remember them by not passing [the sanctuary resolution],” Martin said.

Bennie Woody, Jr., of Madison Heights, said hunting is a strong tradition in his family and he opposes any proposed regulation that would prevent children under age 18 from handling firearms. He said the quickest way to overthrow a country is disarming citizens.

“If it wasn’t important, our forefathers and founders would not have been put in the Constitution,” Woody said of the Second Amendment.

Vance Wilkins, chairman of the Amherst County Republican Party and a former Virginia Speakers of the House, said Virginia’s “wonderful Second Amendment climate” is under threat by Gov. Ralph Northam and a new Democratic majority. He urged supervisors to include a clause in the resolution that uses legal means to protect rights of citizens in regards to bearing arms if the state or federal government tries to remove them.

“The county needs to protect its citizens,” Wilkins said.

Gloria Witt, president of the Amherst chapter of the NAACP, said she opposes the sanctuary measure and is in favor of gun control legislation she argued would not take law-abiding citizens’ guns away.

“I think we should be mindful of our words,” Witt said. “When we talk about gun control, it’s not about taking away your guns. It’s about regulating the type of guns individuals own.”

She said she questions whether individuals need high-powered, military-style weapons for personal pleasure and violence involving such guns across the country is rampant.

“We can’t control mental illness, but we darn well can control our laws,” Witt said.

Witt said she feels it is ridiculous a person can go to a gun show in a flea market and purchase a gun without a background check and she wants that changed. “Having a gun that will shoot 50 rounds in 30 seconds, I argue, is not necessary,” she said.

Michael Bryant, of Madison Heights, said residents need to let state and federal lawmakers know “we are not going to stand for them taking away our rights.” He added residents shouldn’t have to go to a public meeting to beg for those rights to be protected.

Jeff Wade, a Madison Heights resident, expressed concerns with any laws that would infringe on gun ownership rights with church shootings on the rise across the country.

“To not allow people to defend themselves, especially in a church, is totally uncalled for.”

Philip Van Cleave, representing the Virginia Civil Defense League, a guns rights group, said if the Second Amendment gets infringed upon other basic constitutional rights would go as well. He said he hopes to see a tsunami of public opposition to gun control measures that infringe on rights.

“Since Richmond won’t do it, it’s up to us to take up the slack,” Wade said.

Del. Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge County, was in attendance during the meeting. Sheriff E.W. Viar, who did not attend, said at an Oct. 23 community forum in Madison Heights a few weeks prior to his recent reelection he fully supports protecting residents’ Second Amendment rights.

Ayers said he feels gun control laws under consideration would not stop those committed to criminal activity and getting access to guns illegally.

“So the tighter they get on our Second Amendment rights, it’s only going to impact and infringe upon the rights of our law-abiding citizens who should have the ability to bear arms as they so desire,” Ayers said.

Ayers said people need to be held accountable and responsible for their actions and more attention should be given to the people who misuse guns for wrongdoing and not penalizing those who obey the law.

All board members are in support of preserving Second Amendment rights and will do their best to preserve them no matter what the state may pass down, according to Ayers. He and other supervisors thanked the crowd for making their voices heard on the matter.

“We do want to protect our Second Amendment rights,” Supervisor David Pugh said. “It’s unanimous; we’re going to support this. There’s no doubt about it.”

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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