Despite concerns voiced by more than 100 Lynchburg residents during a marathon meeting that lasted until 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, the Lynchburg City Council voted not to join the more than 120 localities in Virginia that have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries.
The City Council voted 5-2 following a public hearing at E.C. Glass High School against a proposed resolution stating the city council's opposition to "the passage of any bill containing language which could be interpreted as infringing the rights of the citizens of Lynchburg to keep and bear arms" and declared the city council's "power to direct the law enforcement and employees of Lynchburg to not enforce any unconstitutional law."
Council members Turner Perrow and Jeff Helgeson voted in favor of the resolution and council members Beau Wright, Randy Nelson, Sterling Wilder, Vice Mayor MaryJane Dolan and Mayor Treney Tweedy voted against declaring Lynchburg a Second Amendment sanctuary.
Since the Nov. 5 state election in which Democrats gained majority control of the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate, more than 100 Virginia localities have passed resolutions declaring their resistance to expected new gun-control measures.
During the past few months, Bedford, Nelson, Appomattox, Pittsylvania, Carroll and Campbell counties have passed similar resolutions and Virginia Beach’s City Council voted last week to declare itself a Second Amendment sanctuary city.
Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed gun control laws, which 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; banning assault weapons and accessories such as high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and silencers; and red flag laws, which would allow the temporary removal of guns from someone who is deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.
Close to 1,000 people attended Tuesday’s meeting, hundreds of who lined up hours before the meeting started to sign up to speak during the public hearing.
“It's been great and encouraging to see so many patriots here tonight," Helgeson said after the public comments ended. "We are hearing pretty loud and clear that our citizens want us to represent them on this issue."
Before the public hearing began, council voted 4-3 to limit the people speaking during the public hearing to those signed up to speak before the 7:30 p.m. meeting began. Council members Turner Perrow, Jeff Helgeson and Randy Nelson voted against limiting the speakers and council members Beau Wright, Sterling Wilder, Vice Mayor MaryJane Dolan and Mayor Treney Tweedy voted in favor of limiting the speakers to only those that had signed up to speak.
“I disagree with this, and I will not vote to support limiting our citizens,” Helgeson said of the motion made by Tweedy. “Quite frankly, I’m surprised you would make this motion in the first place.”
Despite the motion limiting the number of speakers, 120 people signed up to speak during the meeting’s public comment period — which lasted more than five hours — voicing concerns for and against Northam’s proposed gun control laws.
Lynchburg resident Ryan Thomas called the proposed Democratic gun laws “Draconian.”
“I can’t imagine people smart enough to get elected to hold public office can’t see how restrictive these laws are,” Thomas said. “They are attacking our right to defend ourselves.”
Lynchburg resident Tomas Straka, a native of the Czech Republic, agreed.
“These laws are not about public safety, they are about control,” Straka said. “The goal of every leftist regime has been disarmament. I know because I came from one of these countries. If gun control laws were effective then Los Angeles, Chicago and Baltimore would be the safest cities in the world. They are not.”
Lynchburg resident Elizabeth Corrales said the measures state Democratic lawmakers are proposing “do nothing to protect law-abiding citizens.”
“Restrictive gun laws only benefit criminals,” Corrales said during Tuesday’s meeting. “As a mother of four, I want that ‘great equalizer’ to protect myself and my family. I will not abide [by] any unconstitutional gun laws passed.”
Lynchburg resident and Vietnam veteran Robert Flynn spoke against the city becoming a Second Amendment sanctuary.
“When I left Vietnam, I left my M-16 behind,” Flynn said. “I’m a civilian now and have no need of an assault rifle which has the same purpose of killing someone. I have rifles and shotguns that I hunt with, and no one is trying to take those from me. I am against this city becoming a Second Amendment sanctuary.”
Some of the people speaking Tuesday took aim at Dolan, who voted against holding Tuesday’s public hearing during the City Council's December meeting.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Demetrius Alexander said. “You shouldn’t be sitting up there.”
Lynchburg resident Curt Diemer agreed.
“We are the sovereigns of this nation,” Diemer said. “We are the ones that loaned you the right to sit up there. It’s not permanent.”
Although he supports the Second Amendment, Lynchburg resident Steve Timmons said it is not the responsibility of the city council to take action on state legislation.
“It is not your job to represent us in Richmond,” Timmons said. “Lynchburg residents look to you to keep up our streets and provide services. I urge you to let the general assembly and courts handle this issue.”
Lynchburg resident George Caylor, however, said the effect of the resolution in Lynchburg goes past the city’s limit.
“People keep saying these gun laws are a state or federal issue,” Caylor said. “However, what is happening in our city is a microcosm of what is happening all over our country. This is more than a Lynchburg issue.”
Following the public hearing, Perrow thanked those who attended the meeting for getting involved in public discourse on the issue.
"I have heard reasonable arguments on both sides of the issue tonight," Perrow said. "What you are doing tonight is the correct approach. People should appeal to their legislators who represent them and make sure they know your position."
Although Nelson agreed that residents were correct for their involvement in the public hearing, did not vote in favor of the resolution because it "sets a dangerous precedent" for the constitutionality of state and federal laws.
"The city has no legal authority to interpret the constitutionality of laws passed by the General Assembly," Nelson said. "When the courts determine the constitutionality of laws we must follow suit. This resolution implies that Lynchburg can now determine which laws are constitutional and we cannot do that."
"This conversation needs to happen at the state and federal levels," Dolan said. "We cannot exceed our authority by getting involved in the legislation."