ROANOKE — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an advisory opinion stating the resolutions that more than 100 localities across the commonwealth have passed declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries have “no legal effect.”
Herring, a Democrat, said Friday the localities and local constitutional officers “cannot nullify state laws” and must follow the gun laws passed by the General Assembly.
“Neither local governments nor local constitutional officers have the authority to declare state statutes unconstitutional or decline to follow them on that basis,” Herring wrote in the opinion.
Spooked by Democrats taking control of the General Assembly and promising to pass gun control measures, dozens to hundreds of people have packed into rooms across rural Virginia to ask their local governments to pass Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions. Some Republican lawmakers have vocally supported this effort.
Democrats already have filed several gun control bills ahead of the January legislative session. Proposals include universal background checks, civil penalties for not reporting lost or stolen firearms to police, reinstating the state’s lapsed one-handgun-a-month law and giving localities the ability to prohibit the carrying of firearms in a public space during an event that would require a permit.
Some proposals, such as universal background checks, have broad public support, according to polls. But gun rights advocates have been stepping up now that it appears more likely Democrats will be able to pass gun control measures.
Herring has been an advocate for passing gun control measures, including a red flag law that would allow courts to temporarily ban people from possessing firearms if there are clear signs they pose a danger to themselves or others.
“When the General Assembly passes new gun safety laws they will be enforced, and they will be followed,” Herring said.
“These resolutions have no legal force, and they’re just part of an effort by the gun lobby to stoke fear. What we’re talking about are the kind of commonsense gun safety laws that Virginians voted for just a few weeks ago, like universal background checks to make sure that dangerous people aren’t buying guns. Too many Virginians have lost their lives to guns and it is well past time that we enact these gun safety measures that will save lives and make our communities safer.”
The opinion came at the request of Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, who said an opinion would be helpful to localities as they receive requests to join the sanctuary movement.
“The legal precedent we would set by allowing communities to selectively ignore these laws at will is alarming and indicative of the same mindset that nearly 150 years ago led this country to dissolve into a civil war,” Jones wrote to Herring.
“Assuredly, if the duly-elected General Assembly passes measures to advance gun safety in the commonwealth, I believe the legislature should be able to do so without actions by localities to undermine its efforts.”