Loudoun supervisors have advanced a proposed ordinance banning guns in county government buildings, polling places, and possibly parks to a public hearing.
As written, the regulation would ban firearms and ammunition from buildings or part of a buildings controlled by the county government, any county public park, any county recreation or community center, and any parts of any building being used for a governmental purposes, such as polling places during voting. It would not apply to sworn law enforcement, private security hired for county-permitted special events, active duty military conducting their official duties, historical reenactments, and managed hunts. Firearms could be stored out of sight in a locked private vehicle.
Some supervisors who support the move have already talked about dropping the prohibition on carrying guns in county parks, and have also said they would support metal detectors and screening areas at the county’s three largest administrative buildings, the county government center, the Shenandoah Building, and the offices on Ridgetop Circle in Sterling. Doing so is estimated to cost $550,000 a year, plus one-time costs of $150,000 to retrofit those facilities.
But only a minority of supervisors outright oppose the new rules.
“They weren’t talking about whether [District of Columbia v. Heller] was decided correctly or incorrectly, they were talking about their ability to protect themselves in places like a park,” said Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin), “And a vote yes on this tonight is going to prevent them from doing that. I’ve had death threats in my line of work. By removing my ability to carry a gun, this board is making it more possible for, when I walk out of this building, for someone to attack me with lethal force, and I have the inability to protect myself with equally lethal force.”
District of Columbia v. Heller is a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in Second Amendment law which affirmed the individual right to bear arms unconnected with service in a militia. Gun control advocates—including on the Board of Supervisors—have pointed to a section of the opinion written by late Justice Antonin Scalia, which holds that “like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” highlighting some exceptions to that right.
“I feel that all we are doing is making ourselves and the general public that comes to these meetings and our staff less safe by doing so, because the only people that are going to listen to his new law would be law-abiding citizens,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), who along with Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) attempted unsuccessfully to include an exemption for concealed-carry permit holders.
Supporters of the new rules such as Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) pointed out that guns are already prohibited in federal and state government buildings—the only government buildings where they are permitted are county buildings.
“Simply put, our residents have the right to attend meetings, walk into public buildings, vote in public polling places and utilize public parks without fear of weapons being present, either to intimidate, which happens in this board room quite frequently, or increase the likelihood that someone would be killed or severely injured if some sort of altercation with guns out of control,” Briskman said.
“If you came here speaking, we’re tromping on your rights and all that stuff, please show me the emails of you mailing your congressmen and your senators, your presidents, your judges, asking for the same things you’re asking for us here for this proposal,” said Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling). “Please send us these emails.”
County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said she would not support banning guns in public parks, as she sees it as unenforceable, and would support setting up screening areas and metal detectors. She also condemned the behavior of some people opposed to the rule. She said she, too, has gotten many death threats—both in her previous work in substance abuse therapist in prisons, and since being elected to the board.
“And by the way, I’ve gotten death threats from some of the people who are in the group that walked in here tonight to speak to us,” Randall said. “And yesterday, one of those groups shared some of our private home phone numbers on that site, to the point I had to actually take my phone off the hook last night. And I gotta tell you, some of us have children, so calling our homes is a punk thing to do. Sharing my number is a punk thing to do. Do not come at me about how tough you are, when you’re calling my home and calling people’s home with children. That is not tough, that is ridiculous and disrespectful. I have a work cell phone number, I have an email, I have an office cell phone number, I am not hard to reach.”
In fact, most people in government buildings are already prohibited from bringing in guns—county policy already prohibits county staff members from carrying firearms while working, a policy adopted in 1995.
The proposed rule will now go to a public hearing before final revisions and a vote. The public hearing has not yet been scheduled.
The Nov. 17 vote to advance the proposal to the public hearing was 6-2-1, with Kershner and Buffington opposed and Letourneau absent. Randall ruled Umstattd’s motion to add the exemption for concealed carry permit holders out of order, and a later motion to add that exemption by Buffington was voted down 5-3-1, with Kershner, Buffington and Umstattd in favor.