Va. lawmaker asks AG for formal opinion on Second Amendment sanctuary trend

Amherst County residents raise their hands to show support for their county's "Second Amendment Sanctuary" resolution. November 19, 2019. (Graham Moomaw/Virginia Mercury)

A Democratic state delegate has asked Attorney General Mark Herring (D) for a formal opinion on the Second Amendment sanctuary declarations being passed in a growing number of conservative counties across the state.

In a letter sent to the attorney general Monday, Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, said a legal opinion could help clear up confusion on an issue that has “become a flashpoint across our state.” Clarification from the attorney general’s office said, Jones said, would benefit the local officials being “bombarded” with citizen requests to pass resolutions declaring their opposition to, and possible defiance of, new gun-control laws Democratic majorities are expected to pass early next year.

“The bills passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor are binding for our entire Commonwealth and its citizens,” Jones wrote. “The legal precedent we would set by allowing communities to selectively ignore those laws at will is alarming and indicative of the same mindset that nearly one hundred and fifty years ago led this country to dissolve into a civil war.”

In response to media requests, Herring’s office released a statement saying the gun sanctuary resolutions “appear to be nothing more than symbolic.” A formal attorney general opinion on the issue – though not legally binding – would likely carry more weight with state and local officials.

In his letter, Jones said he felt compelled to request the opinion due to “recurring incidents of gun violence in Norfolk and its surrounding areas, violence that has repeatedly been shown to disproportionately harm communities of color.”

Supporters say the gun sanctuary resolutions are a show of pro-gun pushback ahead of the 2020 General Assembly session, when Democrats will press for universal background checks on gun purchases, red flag laws that would allow authorities to take guns from people deemed to be a threat, reinstatement of the one-handgun-a-month policy, bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and other measures.

Local governing boards are passing the pro-gun resolutions at such a rapid pace it’s difficult to keep track. As of last week, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun advocacy group helping to organize the effort, said 23 localities had declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries.

Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, has asked Attorney General Mark Herring for a formal opinion the Second Amendment sanctuary trend sweeping the state.
Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, has asked Attorney General Mark Herring for a formal opinion on the Second Amendment sanctuary trend sweeping the state.