Under the watchful eye of perhaps the largest crowd to ever attend a meeting of the Wythe County Board of Supervisors, leaders unanimously passed a resolution declaring the county a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.” The declaration means that the county will not spend resources to enforce gun control measures it perceives violate the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which gives Americans the right to keep and bear arms.
About 400 people turned out for the meeting Tuesday morning, packing the boardroom and overflowing into the parking lot of the county administration building. Most attendees sported on their jackets and shirts neon orange stickers that read, “Guns SAVE Lives.”
A sound system broadcast the meeting and comments to the outside audience members, who cheered when supervisors passed the resolution.
Several speakers voiced support for the resolution, expressing concerns that legislators in Richmond will soon clamp down on gun laws. When the Virginia General Assembly convenes next year, Democrats will control the Senate, House and governor’s office for the first time in decades. Gov. Ralph Northam has said that passing gun control measures will be a top priority.
Wythe is one of several Virginia counties, including Campbell and Carroll, to have passed Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions.
During Tuesday’s meeting some speakers warned that legislators are slowing working to erode rights guaranteed under the Constitution, like freedom of speech and the right to bear arms.
“It’s a slippery slope; it doesn’t happen overnight,” one speaker said.
Great-grandmother Tina Frazier said she didn’t want the government to take away her family’s right to hunt for food. There’s no harm in having a gun if you are taught how to use and respect it, she added.
“The Constitution gives us the right to bear our arms as we see fit,” she said. “I live alone and, yes, I sleep with a gun, and I have one on right now.”
Jim Cox, chief chaplain for the Wythe County Sheriff’s Office, said the government should address issues with criminals, not law-abiding citizens.
Another speaker said he was speaking out on behalf of future generations, agreeing that constitutional rights are slowly being whittled away.
“They are trying to make law-abiding citizens criminals,” he said of legislators. “Politicians are famous for pulling out one hair at a time. And they keep on plucking.”
Acknowledging that his comments might not be popular, speaker Bart Melton urged supervisors to consider potential ramifications and long-term consequences of the resolution. If the Virginia General Assembly passes stricter gun control laws and law enforcement does not enforce the laws, it could spell trouble for the county in the form of lawsuits, draining money from the county, he said. Defending any lawsuits could break the county or cause supervisors to raise taxes to pay for them, he added.
“The Supreme Court is the arbiter of what is constitutional, not anyone here,” Melton said, adding that the issue will most likely go to the Supreme Court, a process that could take years.
Can you risk a $50 million lawsuit because law enforcement officers don’t enforce laws, Melton asked.
“These questions need to be answered or at least thought about,” he said.
In declaring the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary, supervisors expressed their intent to uphold the Second Amendment rights of the citizens of Wythe County and the intent that public funds of the county not be used to restrict the Second Amendment rights of the citizens of Wythe County, or to aid federal or state agencies in the restriction of said rights. Also, the board declared its intent to oppose any infringement on the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms using such legal means as may be expedient, including, without limitation, court action.
Outside the board room, Perry Greer of Rural Retreat said he attended Tuesday’s meeting because he doesn’t think gun owners “should be railroaded every time somebody gets shot, and that’s what’s happening.” He said he believes the political left is trying to disarm the people in order to take over the country.
Jon Michael Surratt of Fort Chiswell said gun owners are under siege right now, and he attended the meeting to show that not all areas of Virginia are in favor of gun control measures that the General Assembly could consider next year.
Before the vote on the resolution, each supervisor voiced his or her support for the resolution.
Ryan Lawson said she will always defend the right to bear arms. Supervisors Charlie Lester and Coy McRoberts also agreed with the resolution.
Brian Vaught said the Virginia General Assembly has more important issues to consider than gun laws, like increasing funding for education in Southwest Virginia and providing funding to help with economic development in the area.
“They need to leave our guns alone,” said Vaught, who wore with his suit a tie imprinted with the U.S. Constitution.
“I don’t know why we need this resolution,” said Joe Hale. “The Constitution says we have that right and it means it.”
Hale added that he wished as many people attended other board meetings to discuss issues important to the community. The board room “can be a lonely place,” he said before asking audience members to return and participate in local government.
Supervisor Gene Horney said he hopes the Wythe County resolution, along with others, sends a message to Richmond.
Outgoing Board Chairman Tim Reeves got emotional as he said he and other military members of his family have pledged to defend the Constitution.
“I truly love defending the Constitution of the United States,” he said, adding that his public service has been true and dear to his heart.
To reach reporter Millie Rothrock, call 276-228-6611, ext. 35, or email email@example.com.