Strong turnout for gun rights

Published 9:19 pm Thursday, December 5, 2019

The vast majority of the hundreds of people who turned out at Suffolk City Hall Wednesday all had at least two things in common — they were wearing Guns Save Lives stickers, and they wanted City Council to approve a Second Amendment Sanctuary City resolution.

They didn’t get that, or a commitment to take up one.

All of the roughly 30 people who spoke about a sanctuary city resolution supported it, and each person received applause — sometimes rousing applause — after finishing their comments. But no one on council explicitly said they would support such a resolution, even as a majority talked about their background with guns, with the military, or both.

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Council members opted to take no action at the meeting, instead saying they would take the matter under advisement. All of them spoke following the public comment period, with many asking supporters of a sanctuary city resolution — who also expressed opposition to the various gun control measures coming before the General Assembly — to contact their state representatives and let their views be known.

Councilman Tim Johnson said he was moved by the personal testimonies given by residents, but said he would not support a sanctuary city resolution, even as he said council will continue to discuss the issue. He didn’t think the new legislature would be too quick to pass gun control measures.

“I have a problem with the sanctuary cities, because I don’t believe in sanctuary cities,” Johnson said. “I’m sorry. I just don’t think it’s the right way to approach it. This needs to continue, going to Richmond, going to the federal government, and we stand behind you. We believe everything you’re saying, and it’s up to the people to make sure.”

Councilman Mike Duman said he had received numerous phone calls, and that all members had received many emails supporting a sanctuary city resolution.

Duman, like other speakers, noted that the proposed SB 16 would expand the definition of what an assault weapon is and would make many, including himself, guilty of a felony. In general, the bill makes any semi-automatic firearm that takes a magazine with more than 10 rounds an assault weapon.

“I applaud Suffolk 2A Advocacy group, the Virginia Citizens Defense League and others for communicating their concerns to their representatives,” Duman said. “And that is primarily in Richmond. … This needs to be an action, rather than a reaction, and I think you are sending a clear message.”

He is hopeful that Democratic Delegate-elect Clinton Jenkins, who was in the chamber for part of the public comment portion of the meeting, would relay what he heard to his new colleagues in Richmond. Jenkins has said that he is working to gain a better understanding of the various bills before he decides what he will support.

“In the end, constitutionality will be determined by a court of law,” Duman said. “Not us. Not you. Not our law enforcement people. But a court of law. In the interim, I hope that rational thinking and actions on both sides of this sensitive issue will prevail. If common sense and foresight does not prevail, and these proposed laws are not amended as they are currently written, I personally would not be in favor of our city expending any additional time, any additional assets or resources (to enforce them).”

The end of Duman’s last sentence was met by applause from the crowd in the commons area of City Hall and in the council chamber.

Through early Thursday evening, 43 localities had declared themselves Second Amendment Sanctuary Cities, according to the VCDL.

Gary Crossfield, owner of CE Tactical in Suffolk off of Godwin Boulevard, said the gun control bills would make felons out of law-abiding residents. He presented council with a petition with more than 1,200 signatures — gathered in just four days — in support of a Second Amendment Sanctuary City resolution.

“Unfortunately, these bills are going to criminalize our society,” Crossfield said. “It’s going to take a vast portion of our population and turn them into a Class 6 felon overnight, simply for owning something they legally purchased, something that has been legal since the time it was invented nearly 70 years ago, in some cases longer.”

Wesley Gross, the first speaker of the night, called for council to enact a resolution or ordinance to make Suffolk a sanctuary city. He said gun rights are under assault from legislators in Richmond. He, like other speakers, cited what he noted was a contradiction between restrictive gun laws in places like Baltimore, Chicago and San Francisco, and high murder rates. He said “the notion that any elected official would stand by while people, at the stroke of a pen, would erase our rights, is frightening to me.”

“Police are not always there at a moment’s notice,” Gross said, snapping his fingers. “I travel for work, and I take comfort in the fact I know my wife has access to a perfect home defense weapon that she can pick up at a moment’s notice,” again snapping his finger, “save her and my child.”

Mark Aston said everyone in his family are legal, concealed-weapon carriers and well-trained in firearm safety. He said Second Amendment rights must be protected and called for the council to adopt a sanctuary city resolution by its next meeting.

“Personally, my family has been greatly affected by gun violence,” Aston said. “I had a family member shot and killed, murdered in his own home. Had he had a firearm, the outcome likely would have been different. A violent criminal killed him, not a gun.”

In another circumstance, he said another family member of his was a victim of stalking, but by the time police arrived on two different occasions, she had legally armed herself to protect herself and her children.

Tony Myers, who spoke in favor of a sanctuary city resolution at the council’s last meeting, said the gun laws being proposed by members of the General Assembly “are placebos for safety.”

With 53 non-agenda public speakers who signed up prior to the meeting, council — which did not have the topic on its agenda — voted unanimously to reduce the speaking time from five to three minutes to allow everyone to speak before it got too late into the evening. Still, there was nearly three hours of public comment.

The Suffolk 2A Advocacy group, on its website, vowed to return to council at its Dec. 18 meeting to continue pushing for a resolution, but Mayor Linda T. Johnson said it was too soon to act on the issue.

“I’ve read what they’re saying it means, and it’s saying that we would not enforce any constitutional laws,” the mayor said. “Of course, we would not enforce unconstitutional laws, but they have to be declared unconstitutional, and that’s not something we can do. … We took an oath, and we took an oath that said we would uphold the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the state of Virginia, so that’s the position we’re in, and we just need to wait and see.”