Loudoun County supervisors have approved a review of some of Virginia’s new gun laws with an eye towards those that affect local government, setting up what will be a difficult conversation when the report comes to them in the fall.
Most gun laws are a state or federal matter, with Loudoun granted limited authority to regulate firearms, mostly extending to defining the populated areas where shooting is prohibited. That has not prevented gun laws and gun violence from being a hot topic in the county boardroom before. Actions during the previous term included voting down a resolution recognizing National Gun Violence Awareness Day, a debate over whether to support proposed “red flag” emergency protective orders in the General Assembly, and passing tweaks to Loudoun’s county code in response to a series of incidents in which gunfire from private shooting ranges landed in neighborhoods and struck homes and, in one case, a person.
But the General Assembly this year expanded localities’ authority over gun safety with a law allowing them to regulate firearms in public buildings, parks, recreation centers, and at events requiring a local permit.
The report, proposed by Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian), includes no immediate action on that law, but portends a renewed debate over guns in Loudoun. Already, people on both sides of the debate participated in the board’s May 19 public input session to argue for or against the report.
Briskman said she drafted the request for a report so that supervisors can be informed on how new gun laws affect the county, also including the new red flag laws and a law expanding the list of kinds of schools where firearms are prohibited.
Only Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) voted against the requesting the report.
“I’m looking at the motion and all I see is that we’re asking staff to provide information on legislation that has already passed during this year’s General Assembly session, and so I don’t see why we really need to have a [Board Member Initiative] or board action on this,” Buffington said.
“I think this is an excellent way to establish a common baseline of understanding,” said Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn). “The rhetoric is going to get hyperbolic, I think that’s pretty obvious to everybody, and I, for one—I hope everyone is the same—I’m going to base my decisions going forward on fact, and the sooner we can get a common understanding of what these legislative initiatives mean, then I think the better off we’re all going to be to keep the hyperbolic rhetoric to a minimum.”
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said he doesn’t object to the report itself—“all we’re doing at this point is figuring out what [the new laws] mean for us.” And, he pointed out, if other supervisors push to implement tighter gun laws in Loudoun, that will have an impact on the county’s operations.
“I know that my colleagues have desires to potentially implement those in one way or another, and I think it’s important that we understand what the logistical discussion around that should be,” Letourneau said. “For instance, if you’re going to start regulating firearms in public buildings, does that mean that you’re adding a magnetometer to the building itself? And if you do that, then you have to staff it, and so what is the budgetary implication of doing that, and how do you actually do it?”
Briskman said it has been “a historic year for gun safety legislation in Virginia, and why it wasn’t last year after the Virginia Beach mass shooting, I can’t even explain why.”
The vote came close to the May 31 anniversary of a mass shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, when a city employee fatally shot 12 people and injured four more before he was shot dead by police. It was the largest mass shooting in Virginia since the 2008 Virginia Tech shootings, when a student shot 49 people, killing 32 and wounding 17.
“We lose 1,000 people a year in Virginia to gun violence, needless gun violence, and our colleagues in the Virginia legislature have taken bold and meaningful action, and I really feel like it’s time for the county to follow up an follow through on that,” Briskman said.
Supervisors voted 7-1-1 to request the report, with Buffington opposed and Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) absent. It is scheduled to come to supervisors in September.