Firearms Ban Approved by Supervisors

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Area residents participate in a “Bill of Rights Rally” in support of gun rights in front of the County Office Building, organized by local activist Steve Harvey. Photo: Lisa Martin.

The Albemarle Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on August 18 to prohibit most county citizens from being allowed to possess, carry, or transport any firearm, ammunition, or firearm component into county buildings, parks, and recreation or community centers. After discussion of the new ordinance’s language at their July 21 meeting during which various changes were considered, including an exemption for Concealed Handgun Permit holders, the ordinance was later adopted without such a dispensation. (Exceptions are provided for law enforcement officers and other county officials such as court and jail employees and the Commonwealth’s Attorney and his assistants.)

At the July 21 meeting, Samuel Miller District Supervisor Liz Palmer had asked about the possibility of “having the ordinance cover buildings and parks within the development area but not in the rural areas,” to address the concerns of her constituents in the Samuel Miller district which covers rural southern Albemarle. County Attorney Greg Kamptner replied that he thought that would “create some confusion,” and suggested that a concealed carry provision could “address concerns that some people have about encountering wildlife.”

Several supervisors asked Albemarle County Police Chief Ron Lantz about Concealed Handgun Permit (CHP) training and requirements during the July 21 meeting. “Can we rely on CHP training and background checks as something we should be comforted by?” asked White Hall District representative Ann Mallek. “I hear a lot of claiming that an armed citizenry is making everybody safer, but I certainly have gotten the opposite impression from our law enforcement officers.” Chief Lantz averred that every situation is different and he could not generalize about the efficacy of armed citizens.

By the August 18 meeting, none of the supervisors expressed support for a concealed carry permit exception. Under the ordinance as ultimately passed, the closest a licensed gun owner may bring a weapon to any of the specified locations is the inside of their vehicle, as long as the firearm is stowed in a “secured container or compartment.” 

Mallek said she supported the ordinance because “intimidation of others is a real problem.

“I personally have seen when half the audience members in a meeting got up and left when someone came in who they perceived as carrying a weapon,” she said. “It brings up all kinds of memories, experiences—people don’t need that kind of stress.” The sole example cited by the supervisors of a problem in the parks was a report of a “young man brandishing a gun in a park near where I live,” as recounted by Mallek. Brandishing a weapon is already illegal under Virginia state law.

Explaining her support for the proposed ordinance, Supervisor Diantha McKeel recounted a personal story of an occasion when she was a college student and made an unannounced stop at her family home late one night. “My father had to make late night deposits at the bank for his business, so he had bought a pistol so he’d have protection,” said McKeel. “When I let myself in to my house that night, my father came down the hall holding that pistol. We thought, what if he had used it? I’ve never forgotten that incident. Lots of times weapons are used by accident.”

Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley also spoke of accidents as justification for her ‘yes’ vote. “We’ve received many comments from CHP holders saying ‘we are proficient and know how to handle ourselves,’ but that’s not really true,” she said. “Law enforcement has ongoing proficiency [training] with guns, but once you get your permit you’re not required to show proficiency. Anyone who thinks they can shoot a gun—that doesn’t happen. Innocent people get killed and that’s something we want to avoid.”

Supervisor Donna Price, who served in the Navy for 25 years, said the board must defer to the common good. “While I have a high degree of comfort with Concealed Handgun Permit holders and I have such a permit myself, I also recognize that my beliefs must be made secondary to the betterment of the community,” she said. She also noted that she “refused to make conduct by an employee [into a criminal act] that would not be criminal when engaged in by a community member,” referring to the fact that county employees are currently prohibited from carrying weapons in the workplace.

Chair Ned Gallaway summed up his “personal comfort with the [board’s] decision” as a simple exercise in county authority. “Many people have asked us, ‘what problem are you solving?’” said Gallaway, referring to citizens who have pointed to the dearth of weapons-related incidents on county property and have thus questioned the need for a new ordinance. “It’s not a problem, it’s a responsibility. This board has consistently asked the state for more [local] control. The state hasn’t given us the authority to control our own property in the past, but now they have. That’s the problem we’re solving—we’re saying what the rules are on our property.”

As he did before the July 21 board meeting, local activist and past Board of Supervisors candidate Steve Harvey organized a “Bill of Rights” rally opposing the gun ban ordinance in the late afternoon ahead of the August 18 meeting, which attracted about 75 attendees to the lawn in front of the County Office Building. “I didn’t want to do this again, but the love, support, and everything that we’re hearing from citizens to try to stop this ordinance. People feel really passionate,” said Harvey. 

“I fear [the vote] will be a rubber stamp, but my hope is that we can bring enough attention to the issue that it will be embarrassing to the board members, and it must be embarrassing because the whole idea is un-American,” he said. “Their political ideology is not compatible with the general population; it’s actually quite extreme. They ran as moderates, [saying] we’re just going to run your county, it’s going to be normal, and yet we’re one of the only places in the state that’s doing this. Richmond said we’re going to allow [counties to establish ordinances] on a case-by-case basis and you guys can make changes if there are problems. There are no problems here.” 

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