The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors (BOS) held a public hearing for a proposed firearms ordinance at their July 21 online meeting, but delayed a vote on the ordinance to consider changes to its language. The proposal would “prohibit firearms, ammunition, and component parts from being possessed, carried, or transported into any buildings, parks, and recreation centers owned or used by Albemarle County or authorities or other entities controlled by Albemarle County for governmental purposes.” The ordinance lists a number of exceptions to the prohibition, such as for members of law enforcement and other authorized county employees.
In the hours before the meeting, more than 75 people gathered on the front lawn of the Albemarle County Office Building on McIntire Road to protest the ordinance. Organized by former (and, per his stated intent, future) BOS candidate Steve Harvey, the rally featured attendees holding signs with slogans such as “Don’t Punish the Good Guys” and “Criminals [heart] Gun Control” as they listened to speakers and chatted with gun rights advocates such as Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, and state Delegate Chris Runion (R-Augusta).
The proposed ordinance’s language is broad, banning not only guns but also ammunition and component parts from all county property, which has led some local residents to be concerned about accidental offenses (for instance, ammunition forgotten in a pocket or vehicle), and, more generally, about the need for (and expense of) the ordinance to begin with. During the meeting’s public comment section, Michael Knowles, a former district attorney, was one of about a dozen speakers who questioned the “over-breadth” of the ordinance. “Has there been a spate of people throwing unattached magazines at wildlife in the park?” he said, in a sardonic reference to the “components” restriction. “There’s no history of any particular issues here that require this ordinance.”
Patricia Webb, an NRA-certified instructor who said she survived an armed robbery of her family’s small business because she and her husband were legally armed, commented that “the ordinance you are proposing is going to create situations that enable criminals. A criminal knowing that there are no legally armed people in an area creates a zone that is target-rich to them. [Concealed handgun] permit-holders are statistically more law abiding than police officers, and to put them in the position where they cannot enjoy public parks without disarming is unfair.”
A resident of Ivy who described himself and his wife as senior citizens, explained how the ordinance would change their lives for the worse. “What you’re doing tonight is talking about an ordinance that’s going to make my family afraid to visit local parks,” he said. “I can’t protect myself—even though we are both concealed handgun permit holders and have had many months of training and practice. We can’t run away from criminals that you’re going to be welcoming into the parks and buildings, so we just won’t visit them anymore.”
“I don’t understand even the need for this,” added his wife. “We are not a threat.”
The supervisors spent almost three hours discussing amendments to the ordinance, and seemed to coalesce around changes that would allow a citizen at both county buildings and parks to legally store a weapon in a locked container or compartment in their vehicle, and to bring a weapon onto county property with a valid concealed handgun permit. (Such a permit requires proof of firearms safety training.) The board also discussed signage at all affected locations, whether metal detectors and staff would be required at county property entrances, and the rights of law enforcement to ask citizens for proof of permitting.
Board members decided to defer voting on the ordinance until the county attorney can amend its language and determine the full costs of enforcement, and will reconsider the measure after those revisions at a future meeting.
Text of Proposed Ordinance Prohibiting Firearms on Albemarle County Property
Sec. 10-118 Firearms prohibited on County property.
A. Firearm Definition. For the purposes of this section, a firearm is any instrument designed, made, and intended to expel a projectile by means of explosion of a combustible material. The firearm need not be operable or capable of firing to sustain a conviction under this Section.
B. Acts prohibited. It shall be unlawful to possess, carry, or transport any firearm, ammunition, components, or combination thereof in or on:
Any building or part of a building owned or used for governmental purposes by the County, any authority or local government entity created or controlled by the County;
Any public park owned or operated by the County or any authority or local government entity created or controlled by the County; and
Any recreation or community center operated by the County or any authority or local government entity created or controlled by the County.
C. Exceptions. The prohibition made unlawful in subsection B shall not apply to:
Federal, state, and local law enforcement officers; unsworn animal protection officers; and the Fire Marshal, deputies, and assistants;
The Commonwealth’s Attorney, deputy, and assistants, acting within the scope of their duties;
Authorized employees of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, acting within the scope of their duties;
Civilian employees of the Albemarle County Police Department who are assigned to the Forensics Unit, acting within the scope of their duties;
Individuals who surrender or submit for safekeeping firearms to the Albemarle County Police Department. Possession and transport for this purpose is permissible only at the County Office Building at 1600 5th Street, Charlottesville, Virginia;
Individuals granted an exception by the County Executive or their designee;
Active members of the United States Armed Forces and Virginia National Guard, acting within the scope of their duties;
Retired law enforcement officers, if authorized by Virginia Code § 18.2-308.016 or other applicable law;
Security officers licensed and certified by the Department of Criminal Justice Services and authorized to carry a firearm, acting within the scope of their duties;
Individuals authorized by Virginia Code § 18.2-283.1 while in a courthouse that is subject to this section.
D. Security measures. The County Executive may approve and order implemented lawful security measures reasonably designed to prevent unauthorized access of the buildings and areas in subsection B above.
E. Penalty. A violation of any provision of this section shall be punished as a class 1 misdemeanor.