Virginia Attorney General Shoots Down Gun Sanctuary Laws

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – In a rebuke to nearly 100 cities and counties, Virginia’s Democratic attorney general said in an advisory opinion Friday that local pro-Second Amendment laws declaring an exemption from statewide gun safety measures are invalid.

The Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. (Photo via Anderskev/Wikipedia Commons)

“What we’re talking about are the kind of common sense gun safety laws that Virginians voted for just a few weeks ago,” Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement, pointing to last month’s election that saw Democrats take control of both of the state’s legislative chambers for the first time in decades.

He also noted many of the Democrats who won ran on gun control measures like universal background checks.

”Too many Virginians have lost their lives to guns and it is well past time that we enact these gun safety measures that will save lives and make our communities safer,” Herring said.

The so-called Second Amendment sanctuary city movement started after the November election and has included gun advocates from the state’s more rural and conservative pockets. They’ve taken to their local government bodies to demand protection from any new gun laws the Democratic-controlled Legislature is likely to pass.

So far, at least 94 localities have passed such measures, according to local reports.

As news of the movement spread, the National Rifle Association, which is headquartered in Virginia’s northern D.C. suburbs, spoke in support of the local efforts, saying the communities were “lawfully exercising their rights under the First Amendment to defend their freedoms under the Second.”

“It is the tyrannical nature of politicians that triggers sanctuary, not the other way around,” the gun rights group said.

Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has yet to finalize his legislative agenda for new gun laws ahead of the January 2020 session. However, in the wake of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach that left 13 dead in May, he called for an assault weapons ban, a return to the state’s one-gun-a-month purchase law, and other proposals that have irked gun rights activists.

“Now is the time to act—Virginians deserve votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers,” Northam said in a statement ahead of a July special session that brought the state’s legislators back to the capitol to address gun violence. But that session was shut down in less than 90 minutes by Republican lawmakers who have since lost power.

While gun rights groups have shown up in droves to local meetings, they face big hurdles in overcoming new statewide legislation.

Herring’s advisory opinion cited Dillon’s rule, a legal principle prohibiting local authorities from establishing powers not expressly granted by the Legislature, in finding that the local laws are invalid.

“It is my opinion that these resolutions have no legal effect,” the opinion states. “It is further my opinion that localities and local constitutional officers cannot nullify state laws and must comply with gun violence prevention measures that the General Assembly may enact.”

Democrats’ flipping of both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate reflected deep concerns among voters with Republican inaction on gun laws.

Richmond-area retiree Ken Kerns said he voted a split ticket as he left the polls in November. While he said he voted for Republicans in the school board, and had voted Republican at the state level in the past, he voted for Democrats statewide because 2019 “felt different.”

“The inaction was intolerable,” Kerns said of Republicans shutting down the special session over the summer.

Herring’s advisory opinion was issued at the request of Delegate Jay Jones, a first-term Democrat. Jones thanked Herring for his work Friday.

“I agree that these resolutions have ‘no legal effect’ and I appreciate the clarity as we head into the 2020 General Assembly session,” he tweeted.

According to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Virginia has about 12.1 gun deaths per 100,000 citizens, just above the national average of 11.8.

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