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‘We will be a sanctuary county’

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted 5-3 to adopt a resolution declaring the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary at a reconvened board meeting Tuesday, Dec. 17, that drew approximately 600 members of the community to the Barbara Rose Johns Auditorium at Prince Edward County High School.

The adopted resolution describes the title of Second Amendment Sanctuary as meaning that the board is expressing its intent to uphold the Second Amendment rights of the county’s citizens and is declaring its intent to oppose any infringement on the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.

Favoring an alternate draft of the resolution that did not include the term “sanctuary county” were Farmville 801 District Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones, Leigh District Supervisor and Board Vice Chairman Jerry R. Townsend and Hampden District Supervisor Dr. Odessa Pride, each of whom voted against the sanctuary resolution.

After the call to order, invocation and Pledge of Allegiance, Farmville 701 District Supervisor and Board Chairman Jim Wilck addressed the hundreds in attendance.

“The supervisors have all been besieged with phone calls, emails, letters and stopped on the street by residents wanting to voice an opinion, so we have a pretty good idea of the feeling of our districts already,” he said, “but we chose to hold this meeting tonight to hear from people that perhaps have not had the opportunity to share their opinion with us.”

He originally aimed to hear from 12 Prince Edward County residents in favor of the county becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary and 12 county residents opposed, alternating back and forth between the two sides, with each speaker having three minutes to talk.

However, after 13 people total had spoken, no one was readily answering to the call to speak in opposition. Therefore, in an effort to keep contributions from either side of the argument largely equal, Wilck ended the public input portion of the meeting after 15 people had formally spoken. Eight spoke in favor of the sanctuary declaration, and seven spoke in opposition.

Many citizens attending the meeting were vocally pro-sanctuary. Particularly during the time for public input, there were frequent cheers and applause as pro-sanctuary citizens spoke. And when those against the sanctuary offered comment, some, at times, spoke over a chorus of boos and shouts.

Following are public input excerpts from both sides of the argument.

Saranna Thornton, of Farmville, said, “It’s ironic to me that here we are in the Barbara Johns Auditorium, which reminds me of the case of Davis v. Prince Edward School Board, where the Supreme Court of the United States said, in a case that we were a part of, separate but equal was not equal, was a violation of the Constitution. And the people that lived in this county at the time said, ‘We don’t like what the Supreme Court said. We think they’re idiots. We’re going to go our own way. We’re going to close up schools for five years, and we’re going to do what we want to do because we think we’re right.’ That leads to anarchy, and I don’t think anarchy is what we want in our system. … We should not go our own way. The last time we went our own way, it did not go well for us. It caused great harm to this community, harm that this community still suffers from.”

Megan Goin, of Prospect, said, “For the sake of time, I will not read all the radical bills that have been composed in Richmond, but on your own time, read Senate Bill No. 64, and you will notice it not only goes against your freedom to keep and to bear arms, but it also infringes upon your freedom of assembly, speech and the freedom of property. Additionally, House Bill No. 67 states that law enforcement who strikes against their employment will be punished by law. Does any of this sound like they are forming a more perfect union? Establishing justice? Ensuring domestic tranquility? Providing for the common defense? Promoting the general welfare? And they certainly are not securing the blessing of liberty.

“Our government in Richmond is directly going against our Constitution to take our freedoms, and they are doing it in the name of gun control,” she continued. “But gun control doesn’t work. It never has, and it never will, because criminals do not obey laws. … Ladies and gentlemen, we do not have a gun problem in this nation. We have a sin problem. I believe in the separation of church and state, but taking God out of public schools in 1963 was the worst decision we have ever made. After we stopped teaching our children about the Prince of Peace, the number of mass shootings doubled just a decade later.”

Ian Danielsen, of Farmville, said to supervisors, “With respect, I urge you to vote ‘no’ on the proposal to establish our county as hostile to laws which may pertain to common sense gun regulation and to potential laws passed by democratically elected delegates and senators. As someone whose family for generations has used guns for sport and personal protection, I stand up for citizens’ rights to bear arms under the Second Amendment, but I also endorse sensible gun laws which safeguard citizens’ rights to be protected from preventable violence.”

He later added, “The idea that a sheriff’s oath to uphold the law can simply be crimped by a single swipe, by a singular constituency, makes me greatly concerned for the very integrity of our government of laws, and I submit to you, our community’s legislative body, that this attempt to subvert our commonwealth’s rule of law should make you equally concerned. Indeed, legislatures are intended to serve as the voice of reason when such constituencies invoke fear and overstep.”

Paul Hoffman, of Prospect, speaking in favor of the sanctuary resolution, said, “A lot of people say this resolution is not enforceable. They’re really (missing) the point. … Every day in Prince Edward County, Virginia, law enforcement professionals and the Commonwealth’s Attorney make decisions about which of the thousands of Virginia laws to enforce. It’s not possible to enforce every law. They have to allocate their resources and time efficiently — it’s called prosecutorial discretion. … Prosecutorial discretion is what this is about.”

During the portion of the meeting set aside for supervisor comments, most board members refrained from revealing which way they were leaning on the issue, but most expressed gratitude for everyone being there. A few supervisors did offer comments beyond that, and among them was Lockett District Supervisor Robert M. “Bobby” Jones.

Jones, who has been on the board for 20 years, told those in attendance that the Second Amendment Sanctuary issue “has definitely been the hottest topic ever since I’ve been on the board, and I’ve been on the board quite a while, and I guess I’m going to tip my hat to which way I’m feeling. I think we need to send our governor a message that we don’t want him (changing anything involving the Second Amendment).”

Loud applause and cheering began as Jones finished his statement.

After supervisor comments were concluded, Wilck noted that the board had two resolutions in hand — draft No. 1 and draft No. 2. Hard copies of these resolutions were stapled to the meeting agendas that were made available to the citizens in attendance.

Prince Edward County Public Information Officer Kate Pickett Eggleston confirmed Wednesday, Dec. 18, that draft No. 1 came from the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

However, she added, “The resolution that was adopted by the Board of Supervisors was not the exact draft given from the organization. The resolution had some strikethroughs/edits that were recommended by the county’s attorney.”

During the meeting, Wilck said, “Pattie brought us a second resolution as a variation, so I’d like for Pattie (to) make a motion.”

Cooper-Jones made a motion to adopt draft No. 2 and then proceeded to read the draft.

It reads as follows:

“WHEREAS, the Board of Supervisors of the county of Prince Edward, Virginia, has received significant input from citizens of Prince Edward County expressing concerns about potential legislation that has been introduced and may be enacted by the 2020 Virginia General Assembly that could infringe upon the rights of our citizens under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I of the Constitution of Virginia; and

“WHEREAS, every elected official in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the county of Prince Edward, to include each member of the Board of Supervisors, has taken an oath of office and sworn or affirmed that he/she will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Virginia, and by virtue of this oath of office will actively work to protect all of the rights guaranteed by both Constitutions, including the right for law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms; and

“WHEREAS, the Board of Supervisors of the county of Prince Edward, Virginia, under the authority of the ‘Dillon Rule,’ writes, enacts and upholds laws for Prince Edward County to the extent that authority has been specifically granted by the Virginia General Assembly, and we will use the fullest extent of our authority to protect and defend the rights of our citizens; and

“WHEREAS, this resolution is intended to send a clear message to the members of the Virginia General Assembly that the Board of Supervisors of the county of Prince Edward, Virginia, respects the rights of our citizens, all of their rights; and we stand united with other Virginia localities that have similarly expressed concern about the passage of legislation which may infringe on the rights of the law-abiding citizens of Prince Edward County;

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Supervisors of the county of Prince Edward, Virginia, urges the members of the Virginia General Assembly to uphold their oaths of office and not approve any legislation that would abridge the constitutional rights, to include the Second Amendment, of the citizens of the commonwealth; and

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Supervisors of the county of Prince Edward, Virginia, shall not restrict the rights of our citizens, or administer or enforce any law that is adjudicated by an appropriate court to violate either the U.S. Constitution or Virginia Constitution; and

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Supervisors of the county of Prince Edward, Virginia, directs that a copy of this resolution be provided to the members of the Virginia General Assembly representing Prince Edward County and to the governor of Virginia.”

Applause followed Cooper-Jones’ reading of the draft.

Some people called out from the crowd, asking about draft No. 1 of the resolution.

Draft No. 2 was seconded, and Wilck initiated the discussion on Cooper-Jones’ motion.

“Pattie’s motion specifically leaves out the words ‘sanctuary county,’” he said.

This prompted voices from the crowd asking, “Why?”

“I have been looking and Googling up the counties and whatnot in Virginia, and they’re well over 50%, there’s a difference of opinion in some of them, but on sanctuary (counties), they either say you voted for sanctuary (counties) or you voted against,” he said. “In Pattie’s case, you would be voting against, so I am not in favor of Pattie’s (motion).”

After there was no more discussion, Wilck called for the votes of those in favor of draft No. 2. Cooper-Jones, Townsend and Pride each raised a hand.

The other five supervisors raised hands when Wilck called for the votes of those opposing.

Prospect District Supervisor J. David Emert made the motion for the board to adopt draft No. 1 and opted to skip reading it due to its length but said that members of the public were free to look at it themselves.

As the board proceeded, there was murmuring in the crowd about draft No. 1 and eventually someone spoke loudly enough to be heard saying, “It needs to be read. Not all of us have got a copy of that.”

“I’m sorry,” Wilck said. “The discussion’s over with. Now we’re voting.”

Referring to the hard copy of draft No. 1, Emert said, “If you would like one, please turn to your neighbor. I would ask that. It is extremely lengthy.”

“OK, is there a second to the motion?” Wilck asked.

“I second,” Buffalo District Supervisor Llew Gilliam Jr. said.

Voting in favor of adopting draft No. 1 of the resolution were Emert, Gilliam, Jones, Wilck and Farmville 101 District Supervisor Gene A. Southall. Voting in opposition were Cooper-Jones, Pride and Townsend.

“David’s motion carries,” Wilck said. “We will be a sanctuary county.”

This was met by loud cheers and a standing ovation by many in attendance.

Draft No. 1 of the resolution reads as follows:

“WHEREAS, the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads, ‘A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed;’ and

“WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), affirmed an individual’s right to possess firearms, unconnected with service in a militia, for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home; and

“WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court in McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010), affirmed that the right of an individual to ‘keep and bear arms,’ as protected under the Second Amendment, is incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment against the states; and

“WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), opined that firearms that are part of ordinary military equipment, or with use that could contribute to the common defense are protected by the Second Amendment; and

“WHEREAS, Article I, Section 13, of the constitution of Virginia provides ‘that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state, therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed;’ and

“WHEREAS, Article I, section 1 of the constitution of Virginia reads, ‘That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into the state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety;’ and

“WHEREAS, Article I, section 2 of the constitution of Virginia reads, ‘That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people, that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them;’ and

“WHEREAS, certain legislation that has or may be introduced in the Virginia General Assembly, and certain legislation which has or may be introduced in the United States Congress could have the effect of infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 13 of the constitution of Virginia; and

“WHEREAS, the PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY Board of Supervisors is concerned about the passage of any bill containing language which could be interpreted as infringing the rights of the citizens of PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY to keep and bear arms; and

“WHEREAS, the PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY Board of Supervisors wishes to express its deep commitment to the rights of all citizens of PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY to keep and bear arms; and

“WHEREAS, the PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY Board of Supervisors wishes to express opposition to any law that would unconstitutionally restrict the rights of the citizens of PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY to keep and bear arms; and

“WHEREAS, the PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY Board of Supervisors wishes to express its intent to stand as a Sanctuary County for Second Amendment rights and to oppose, within the limits of the Constitution of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia, any efforts to unconstitutionally restrict such rights, and to use such legal means at its disposal to protect the rights of the citizens of PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY to keep and bear arms;

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Supervisors of PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, Virginia:

“That the PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY Board of Supervisors hereby declares PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, Virginia, as a ‘Second Amendment Sanctuary;’ and

“That the PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY Board of Supervisors hereby expresses its intent to uphold the Second Amendment rights of the citizens of PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, Virginia; and

“That the PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY Board of Supervisors hereby declares its intent to oppose any infringement on the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.”