At a recent council meeting all that changed. Folks filled the small council chambers and some were packing heat - yes sir, the kind of heat known by such names as Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Glock. Their reason for being there - to protest a "gun ban."
Council had put up a sign in Town Hall asking people to not bring guns inside. Check your gun at the door, partner. In response, guns rights advocates came to the council meeting to protest by proudly carrying guns. Turns out that, under Virginia law, the protestors had a valid point! Local governments can ban guns in schools, churches, and courthouses but not on other public property. So, the Town of Boones Mill acted beyond its authority when it put up the sign.
Similar protests have occurred in other towns and cities in the Shenandoah Valley, Northern Virginia, and elsewhere. These protests are not spontaneous reactions of local citizens but are carefully orchestrated by gun-rights groups like the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Visit the website for their commentary on Boones Mill.
Which leads to some obvious questions:
- Should the General Assembly preempt local elected officials from banning guns in town/city halls, at council, school board, zoning, other meetings. We know the General Assembly has that authority, but should it be in the business of telling local government when to stand and when to sit?
- Do guns have a place at these council, school board, or other meetings such as public hearings on zoning or the budget? Sometimes these meetings deal with topics that excite the emotions and pit citizen vs official or neighbor vs neighbor. Even if it isn't brandished, could the very presence of an armed citizen intimidate others from speaking out? Could it influence a supervisor's vote?
- I know that the gun I can't see is more dangerous than the one I can, but allowing anyone to walk in to a public building with a openly carried weapon seems to be inviting others to do so with a concealed weapon.
- And it isn't just meetings that should be of concern. Citizens visit town halls and county administrative building for all sorts of reasons: taxes, building permits, registering to vote, etc. Occasionally a citizen is angry over his taxes, or a failed building inspection, or whatever. Do guns have a place in situations where those kinds of emotional confrontations may occur?
- Does the General Assembly allow the open carrying of guns in the Capitol and the General Assembly Building? If not, why not? What is good policy for our state lawmakers would seem to be good policy for local governments as well. Or, at least let local governments decide for themselves if guns and government meetings mix.