State office buildings ban guns, but Va. law blocks local governments from restricting weapons

An attendee at a committee hearing in the General Assembly wears a gun in his belt. State lawmakers allow only people with concealed carry permits to bring guns into the Capitol. Guns are banned in other state office buildings. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A mass shooting at a city office building in Virginia Beach has at least one local government official in Virginia renewing calls for legislation allowing localities to ban guns from municipal buildings.

“We must be able to secure our city buildings,” tweeted Richmond Councilman Michael Jones.

While all state office buildings prohibit guns and the General Assembly allows only people who possess a concealed carry permit to bring them into the Capitol, local governments can’t take any such steps – a point of contention over the years.

Most recently, officials in Roanoke sought legislation this year allowing them to ban guns from their City Council meetings. A committee rejected the proposal on a party-line vote, with Republicans opposing, according to The Roanoke Times. A broader proposal last year that would have allowed them to ban guns from City Hall altogether was also rejected.

“We are disappointed that a governing body cannot protect ourselves and the public from those individuals with guns that may want to do us harm,” Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea told the Times. “I just do not understand why they will not let us protect ourselves.”

In Richmond, authorities installed metal detectors in City Hall after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and blocked people from entering with weapons, but they were forced to end the practice about a year later following a legal challenge.

Guns were allowed in state office buildings until 2015, when then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe implemented emergency regulations via executive order.

It’s not clear that allowing localities to ban guns would have changed the course of the Friday shooting in Virginia Beach, which was carried out by a city employee who had a security badge and began his attack in the parking lot before entering the building. But to Jones, who serves on a City Council where a man with a gun was once carried out of a meeting by three police officers, the attack served as a startling reminder of longstanding security concerns.

“I want to see how many members of the VA General Assembly are going to tweet condolences and heart felt sentiments versus writing legislation that will secure Municipal Buildings,” he wrote.