The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is holding off on any definitive position on so-called red flag laws until November.
The board decided Thursday night to defer adding support for any red flag law in its legislative program for Richmond, which is a guide to the board’s priorities and policy statements for the Virginia General Assembly Session.
Supporters and those in opposition waited hours before the board voted 6-3 to hold off on a decision until after the bipartisan Virginia State Crime Commission presents its’ policy recommendations for lawmakers after the November election.
Supervisors Koran Saines (Sterling), Kristen Umstattd (Leesburg) and Chairwoman Phyllis Randall—the three Democrats on the board—voted to keep the policy support in the county program after the Republican-led board favored the motion by Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) to hold off.
“We don’t know enough about these bills, and frankly there’s going to be more bills,” Buona said. “There's right ways to go about a red flag bill and there’s wrong ways to go about a red flag bill, so I would rather we get the analysis back from the VCC."
He added, “Policy statements are intended for our government relations firm and county staff to be able to have flexibility when they are in Richmond during the session, because things move very fast down there, and they move so fast that we may not have another board meeting to take a position before something is getting voted on.”
Red flag laws, which essentially permit police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves, was a hot issue Thursday, attracting an array of speakers with mixed views on the matter.
Most speakers were in favor of the proposed statement. Others said the measure was an infringement on their constitutional rights and would lead to gun confiscation.
“Red flag laws violate the Second Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment," Wally Bunyea said. “My basic rights in the Bills of Rights.”
Elizabeth Comerford added, “Taking my guns, I feel like you have no right to do that.”
Supporters of the proposal, meanwhile, voiced their belief that red flag laws are commonsense policy.
Longtime resident Erica Garman said she has no beef with gun ownership, “but passing a red flag law is a commonsense intervention."
A woman in Loudoun County was injured recently when a stray bullet grazed her near Hamilton. The victim was treated for minor injuries.
The shots came from a nearby property where people were target shooting, according to authorities.
William R. Hymes, III, 24, of Ashburn was charged this week with reckless discharge of a firearm, according to the sheriff's office.
Dulles Supervisor Matthew Letourneau (R) disagreed that red flag laws violate the Constitution or civil rights. Multiple states have implemented the measures.
“I’m being asked to endorse a specific policy proposal or one thereof, and I’m not sure I’m ready just to decide yet which of these is the right way to go,” Letourneau said.
Disturbed by the reaction from county staff on enforcing the proposed policy, Broad Run Supervisor Ron Meyer (R) sided with Buona’s motion.
“I’m willing to take a position on this if there’s one that fits for our county government,” Meyer said. “I’m all for that, [but] not tonight. Because with these comments, clearly we are not ready.
Randall requested the board support the item in the legislative program prior to Nov. 18.
“We have no idea what’s going to happen on the 18th, it’s after the election," Randall said. “I want to say that Loudoun County supports the ideal of when someone is hurting so much, when they are so helpless, so desperate that they are trying to take their own life or would think of hurting somebody else—although most take their own life—we support doing something.”
The board’s Transportation and Land Use Committee is expected to hear a proposal from county staff on Sept. 24 on requiring target shooters to use berms, backstops or natural features to capture bullets from the discharge of their firearms.
This comes after -- in addition to the incident in Hamilton -- at least eight homes in Loudoun County were struck by errant gunfire since spring 2018.
Under the weapons and explosives section of the county ordinance, the discharge of a firearm within 100 yards of an occupied building is prohibited unless the owner has given permission. Discharge is also prohibited within 50 yards of primary and secondary roads.
Proposed Red Flag Law Policy Statement from Loudoun County Board of Supervisors
Removal of firearms from Persons Under An Emergency Severe Threat Order of Protection – Support legislation that outlines the procedure, notification requirements, and evaluation processes for determining an emergency severe threat order of protection, and upon such order, 1) removes firearms under the possession of the respondent to a responsible custodian, local law enforcement or federally licensed firearms dealer; 2) provides penalties associated with purchasing, possessing or transporting a firearm by a respondent until the order expires or is dissolved by the court; and, 3) provides penalties for anyone transferring a firearm to a person known to be served with a warrant.