Hanover swiftly rushed to the defense of guns; not so quickly for residents shaken by a racist rally

December 23, 2019 12:01 am

The Hanover County Courthouse. (Creative Commons via Wikipedia)

More than 100 localities across the commonwealth have passed symbolic “sanctuary city” amendments, measures that have no legislative teeth, but reiterate citizens’ rights to own and bear guns.

Stafford County is among the latest local governments in Virginia to adopt the stance, bracing for gun control laws promised by the incoming Democrat-controlled state legislature.

On Dec. 11, the Board of Supervisors in my county, Hanover, adopted a resolution to oppose “any law that would unconstitutionally restrict the rights under the Second Amendment of the citizens of Hanover County to keep and bear arms.”  In no uncertain terms, the majority-white, majority-male, majority-Republican leaders of the county rushed to the defense of gun rights, and a packed chamber of majority-white Hanoverians heartily agreed with the decision.

In July of this year, the Ku Klux Klan rallied in Hanover, mere feet from the historic courthouse where Patrick Henry argued his Parsons’ Cause case.

The courthouse grounds — a symbolic harbinger of the American Revolution and our fledgling nation’s fierce fight for liberty — became the stomping grounds of America’s oldest racial hate group, whose reign of terror in the Jim Crow years was characterized by their deadly violence and cruelty to black Americans. I, like many Hanover County residents (especially those of color), was appalled and outraged by the KKK’s flagrant display a few miles from my home and found it unacceptable that they came here to drum up members.

We voiced our concerns on social media, in our homes and churches, and, at the July 24 Board of Supervisors meeting, looked to our leadership for a response to this troubling incident.

To say we were disappointed by the board’s reaction would be a gross understatement.

Chairman W. Canova Peterson initially told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he supports “citizens of this community and country being able to express their opinion — as long as they do it peacefully.” (Later, at the meeting, Peterson said: “We were shocked at this unwelcome surprise visit because, let there be no mistake, we condemn the message they espouse and we do not want them here,” he said. “The KKK and other groups who preach and spew venom of hatred are not welcome in this county.”)

I prefer mustard on my hot dogs, not ketchup; that’s an opinion. A group which has lynched and burned human beings because they have a different skin color is not expressing an opinion, they are expressing pure, virulent racism. The fact that the head of my county’s leadership equated the KKK’s bigoted beliefs with an “opinion” remains sickening to me.

My mind reels when I consider that this is the same county currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the county NAACP, which has lobbied on behalf of thousands of black Hanoverians to change the names of two public schools which bear the monikers of Confederates whose traitorous army fought to preserve the inhumane institution of American slavery. I burn with anger when I watch these same county leaders, they who sat in stony silence in that July meeting, pass with swift and firm intention a knee-jerk resolution to oppose not-yet-written laws that may try to curb the epidemic of gun violence in this country. 

My father, my husband and several members of my family who live in Hanover are responsible gun owners. Like many kids raised in rural communities, I learned early how to shoot a BB gun in the backwoods of my family’s property. I do not condemn guns when they are used in the proper context and with the highest regard to safety. But according to an October 2019 report by the Pew Research Center, “nearly 40,000 people died of gun-related violence in the United States in 2017, the highest annual total in decades.” The same report, which utilizes the most recent data available, highlights an increase in the number of Americans who feel gun laws should be stricter, as found in a September 2019 survey.

My husband and I were college students in 2007; he was at Virginia Tech and I was enrolled at nearby Radford University. He was on campus during the tragic mass shooting on April 16 of that year. We will never forget that horror, nor the lives of 32 innocent people that were snuffed out by the gunman’s bullets. What these statistics and situations point to is a need for more measured dialogue on gun rights and gun ownership, not reactionary resolutions like the one adopted in Hanover and other localities across the state. 

Through their bare-minimum reaction to rampant racism in our backyard, and their rapid reaction to perceived threats to citizens’ gun rights, my county’s leaders send to me, my family and everyone who cares about racial justice and inclusivity in Hanover a clear message: “Gun rights are a far more serious issue to us than racism in the county. We’ll immediately address the former but keep quiet as church mice about the latter. Get over it.”

This attitude reflects very poorly on our county, and doesn’t represent the true feelings of all Hanoverians. In Hanover County, in Virginia, in America, the Second Amendment cannot be weighed more important than the Fourteenth Amendment, which promises to protect the “life, liberty and property” of all citizens, granting us “equal protections” of our civil rights and humanity. 

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Samantha Willis
Samantha Willis

A freelance journalist with experience in broadcast, digital and print media, Samantha Willis’ award-winning writing has appeared in Richmond magazine, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Style Weekly and Glamour Magazine, among other publications. She is a Hanover County native who lives in Ashland with her husband and sons. Contact her at [email protected]