Council stops short of sanctuary

Published 10:33 pm Thursday, December 19, 2019

Suffolk City Council passed a resolution Wednesday that affirms its support for being a “Constitutional City” by a 7-0 vote.

Once again, the council chambers and the hallway at City Hall were packed with hundreds of supporters of the Second Amendment, asking the council to adopt a resolution affirming Suffolk as a Second Amendment Sanctuary City.

City Council stopped short of doing so, however, approving a different resolution that some detractors said meant nothing.

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The Virginia Citizens Defense League defines a Second Amendment sanctuary as “any locality that says it will not enforce unconstitutional (federal or state) gun laws.”

The movement has gained traction since the pre-filing of SB 16, a bill authored by Northern Virginia Democratic Sen. Richard Saslaw that would expand the definition of assault firearms and “prohibits any person from importing, selling, transferring, manufacturing, purchasing, possessing or transporting an assault firearm,” according to the summary of the bill. If found guilty, the person would be convicted of a felony.

The proposed new definition of assault firearms, in general, includes semi-automatic weapons with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. It includes no “grandfather clause” for people who currently own such firearms.

Wednesday’s “Constitutional City” resolution was not originally on the meeting agenda. Council added, read and passed it before supporters of a sanctuary city resolution had a chance to speak.

A number of people speaking after the vote expressed anger toward council for a resolution they said did nothing to protect their Second Amendment rights — one that they did not have a chance to see prior to the vote.

Gary Crossfield, owner of CE Tactical on Godwin Boulevard and one of 66 people who had signed up to speak — the vast majority in support of becoming a sanctuary city — said the council’s resolution meant little.

“I do appreciate the fact that you guys did a resolution,” Crossfield said. “That resolution did nothing for us. That resolution, all it simply said (is) you’re going to do your jobs exactly the way you’re still doing it, that gave no support to get these laws not to come into effect, not at all. It didn’t band Suffolk together. It didn’t fight these laws. All it did was say you’re going to keep doing exactly what you’re doing.”

Others said it was a good first step, but still asked council to adopt a sanctuary city resolution.

Councilman Roger Fawcett, who seconded the motion by Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett to adopt the resolution, was the only council member to speak prior to the vote.

“I too, would like my Second Amendment to be protected along with the Constitution,” Fawcett said. “But I will tell you that, whatever the laws of the land, I will do my best to abide and make sure that we’re following the rule of law. So I don’t want anybody to walk away from here saying Councilman Fawcett is not a supporter of the Constitution or the Second Amendment, but I am also not just (a supporter of) the Second Amendment, but (also) the First Amendment, Third, Fourth Amendment, 10th Amendment. … I would hope that when the General Assembly meets in Richmond that all the considerations are taken and looked at, and that we don’t get caught up in this.”

Fawcett said he has heard from many people about the city adopting a sanctuary city resolution and said he appreciated all the comments from the previous meeting.

“I am with you,” Fawcett said. “So I want you to go away from here tonight knowing that I’m with you. And hopefully, when it comes to going up to the General Assembly this year, maybe all this conversation will bring something good. And that’s my hope and prayers for everybody.”

Said Mayor Linda T. Johnson: “I would just like to reiterate, this is about the rights, the entire Constitution — every single piece of it. And that’s what’s most important is our United States Constitution and the Constitution of the state of Virginia. That’s what we operate by; that’s what we live by.”

Councilman Mike Duman was not at the meeting. He explained in a social media post on Thursday that he was on his first vacation with his family in more than 20 years and is out of the country. He said it had been planned for more than three months.

“I had prepared a statement for Wednesday that was supposed to be read by a fellow councilman if any action was taken,” Duman wrote in his post. “He backed out at the last minute. Also, I was never called or consulted about the resolution. I was never given a copy or informed it was going to be on the agenda.”

After everyone had spoken on Wednesday night, Johnson said a lot of the things people said “run deep,” and refuted comments that called council’s action sneaky.

“I did talk to a lot of you before we did this resolution,” Johnson said, “and I was told, ‘put something on paper.’ That’s what we did — honoring the Constitution.”

The resolution, titled “Reaffirming the City of Suffolk’s commitment to the constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia,” read:

“Whereas, the structures and limitations of government are expressed in the Constitution of the United States of America (the “U.S. Constitution”) and the Virginia Constitution, and amendments thereto; and,

“Whereas, the City Council of the City of Suffolk, Virginia has only those powers granted to it by the General Assembly and Article VII of the Virginia Constitution; and

Whereas, the General Assembly is required to uphold the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia; and,

“Whereas, the federal and state judiciary have exclusive jurisdiction pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution and Article VI of the Virginia Constitution to determine the constitutionality of laws passed by the respective legislatures.

“Now, therefore, be it resolved that the City Council of the City of Suffolk, Virginia respects the structures and limitations of government as expressed in the U.S. Constitution and Virginia Constitution.

“Be it further resolved that the City Council of the City of Suffolk has full faith that the division of powers expressed in Articles I, II, and III of the U.S. Constitution and Articles III, IV, V, and VI of the Virginia Constitution shall continue to operate to prevent any laws that infringe upon the rights guaranteed to the people.

“Be it further resolved by the City Council of the City of Suffolk that City of Suffolk shall not administer or enforce any law that is adjudicated by an appropriate Court to violate either the U.S. Constitution or Virginia Constitution.

“Be it further resolved that by virtue of their Oaths of Office the City Council of the City of Suffolk fully supports both the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions and the rule of law.

“Be it further resolved that the Suffolk City Council directs the City of Suffolk City Clerk to forward a copy of this Resolution to the City of Suffolk’s elected representatives in the Virginia General Assembly.”