Leesburg Town Hall

Leesburg Town Hall

The Leesburg Town Council unanimously agreed during its Monday night work session to direct staff to explore options available to them should they decide to ban firearms from town buildings.

The discussion, spurred by Loudoun County’s recent adoption of a firearm ban in all county buildings and installation of security scanners in three of its buildings, drew opposing opinions from the council. However, they agreed that more information was need before making a decision.

Assistant Town Manager Keith Markel provided the council with three alternatives. One is to keep everything as it is now, with lobby security and an armed police officer in the council chamber during meetings. The second is to post signs banning firearms. While the signs wouldn’t deter all potential weapon carriers, it would give the town a legal right to search a suspicious person’s bags.

The third option is to block two of the three entrances to Leesburg Town Hall, either permanently or during meetings, and install a screening system. The least costly option would be the use of a handheld wand, which cost under $500 each. A walk-through metal detector would cost $3,000-$6,000, and an artificial intelligence sensor like the one used by the county would cost more than $20,000 per year. In addition, security staff would be paid $25 to $30 an hour, Markel said.

Many on the council seemed to support imposing some kind of firearms ban.

“Government centers at least are certainly becoming focal points for very emotionally charged events and individuals,” Councilman Neil Steinberg said. “We need to take the steps available to us … to have some small control to prevent some kinds of tragedies.”

Town Manager Kaj Dentler recommended that in addition to looking at screening options for Town Hall, the council should consider other busy town facilities as well, including the Ida Lee Park Recreation Center, Leesburg Executive Airport and the Thomas Balch Library.

Ida Lee director Rich Williams, who attended the work session, said that he would support screening. Markel added that he reached out to the staff of both Leesburg Executive Airport and Thomas Balch Library, none of whom felt unsafe with the current policy, he said.

Councilwoman Suzanne Fox echoed the sentiment, saying that Leesburg’s needs aren’t the same as those of the county’s.

“I see where my colleagues would want this type of thing in place,” Fox said. “In order for me to support any sort of restriction, I feel that I’d need to know the exact nature of the problem,” she said. “I feel safe here. If we don’t feel safe here, that’s another issue, but we shouldn’t make a substantive policy on a subjective issue.”

Others on council countered that feeling safe or unsafe isn’t the issue.

“We have a choice to be proactive or reactive with this,” Councilman Ara Bagdasarian said. “It sucks that we even have to think about this and plan for this … but we cannot take that ‘it-will-never-happen-here' mentality.”

Town staff will present the council with additional details about the cost of the various options and where any potential funds would come from at a future work session, Markel said.

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