The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 3 voted against supporting a Second Amendment policy statement within its Richmond legislative program.
After items on affordable housing and waiving land use permit fees were quickly added to the program, the board’s mood shifted after Catoctin Supervisor Geary Higgins (R) asked the board to consider supporting a policy statement showing affirmation for the Second Amendment.
His effort comes before lawmakers return to the Virginia General Assembly next month. Gun policy is expected to be a hot topic in the upcoming session.
Earlier this year, a special session on adopting the governor’s proposed gun laws concluded with no action. Parts of Northam's legislative package include requiring universal background checks, banning assault weapons and implementing “red flag” laws that would empower courts to temporarily remove a gun from an owner if they are deemed at risk to themselves or others.
Higgins last week said, “We want to make sure that we protect the constitutional rights and not criminalize law-abiding citizens who own firearms."
The Catoctin supervisor’s motion also came a week after the Loudoun County Republican Committee adopted a resolution opposing “red flag” laws.
Leesburg Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D) said Higgins’ motion was “unnecessary” because it just “restates our oath of office” -- meaning supervisors pledge to uphold the constitution when they're sworn-in. Her colleagues, supervisors Ron Meyer (R-Broad Run) and Koran Saines (D- Sterling), said Higgins' motion was hypocritical.
Supervisors have encouraged each other to remain bipartisan on issues impacting their constituents and to focus strictly on local issues.
“You said not to bring partisan stuff up here—we didn't do it, but here you are bringing up some partisan stuff because it's in your wheelhouse,” Saines said. “So that is hypocrisy.”
Meyer added, “I support it, but these social issues don't necessarily belong in our legislative agenda — that's not really the purpose of it. And so just because it's a different party proposing basically social language, I don't think it belongs our legislative agenda. You can't be hypocritical and vote against what the Democrats have brought this whole term and try to put our legislative package -- whether it's on gun violence, on equal rights, on LGBTQ rights -- and then go ahead and propose conservative language on social issues and say well we should vote for because I agree with it this time ... that is total hypocrisy.”
Meyer made a substitute motion stating the board is opposed to any legislation that has or may be introduced in the General Assembly that could have the effect of unlawfully infringing on the Bill of Rights. That measure failed 4-4-1, with support from Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) and supervisors Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) and Umstattd. Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large), Saines, Meyer and Higgins opposed it.
Dulles Supervisor Matthew Letourneau (R) was absent for the vote.
Higgins' original motion failed on a 2-4-2-1 vote. Volpe joined Higgins in support, with opposition coming from Meyer, Randall, Saines and Umstattd. Buffington and Buona abstained.
“I'm actually going to support Supervisor Higgins’ motion, but as I stated in my email response, I assume the board's position will change as the legislative agenda goes forward and actual pieces of legislation are done,” Volpe said.
Buona added, “All of us are concerned about gun violence, but I'm also concerned about infringement on rights. This particular item is going to be voted on in Richmond. We don't know how it's going to read yet, but some of the pre-filings are scary as heck, and so there has to be some kind of position.”
Buffington considered the vote a waste of time because the policy statement may be wiped out with the new board next month. Voters in November elected four new members to give Democrats a six to three advantage on the upcoming board.
"If you support the Second Amendment, then you should be lobbying state representatives, delegates and senators,” Buffington said. “You should be joining the NRA or donating to the NRA or joining one or the other pro-Second Amendment, pro-gun organizations, because they're going to be the ones — hopefully with you all — in Richmond lobbying against this sort of thing.”
Randall noted in the months leading up to December the board has killed attempts to support other statewide issues, including ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment and supporting “red flag” laws and driver’s license privileges cards.
“I have made quite a few motions that I think do impact Loudoun County residents, and I have been told that they would be voted down because they were state or federal issues and not appropriate for a legislative item,” Randall said. “I didn't always agree with that, but OK, but this definitely falls under an issue that is not a local issue, and quite frankly, this issue was just litigated. It was litigated for an entire year, and we had a result to that litigation, and that result of that litigation was called an election.”
Higgins is not returning to the Board of Supervisors in the new year. He was defeated by Democratic Sen.-elect John Bell by nearly 10 percent of the vote in November's 13th Senate District election.