About 70 people gathered at the Albemarle County Office Building downtown ahead of a virtual public hearing on a proposed ordinance banning firearms at most county-owned property.
The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday held the public hearing on the proposed ordinance prohibiting firearms from buildings, parks and community centers owned or used by Albemarle for governmental purposes. The board did not vote on the ordinance by press time.
Steve Harvey, the White Hall District Republican challenger who lost to Supervisor Ann H. Mallek in 2019, organized the rally.
“To create a situation like this, when there is utterly no problem, is to bring on risk that’s unnecessary,” he said.
During the board meeting, Amanda Farley, with the county attorney’s office, said the county’s rationale for an ordinance was around public safety of government employees and the general public.
“Further, it’s an exercise of management and responsible management of government operations, and over its property,” she said.
Farley said her office was recommending some changes to the proposed ordinance.
“One is that the board consider replacing the current discretionary exemptions granted to the county executive in the draft and replace that with a blanket exemption for valid concealed weapon permit holders,” she said.
Notice has to be posted at all entrances of buildings and parks and recreation and community center facilities, and Farley said staff was recommending expressly including that notice provision in the ordinance.
“So if the sign is not there, it’s not enforceable there,” she said.
Violation of the proposed ordinance, if adopted, would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to a year in jail and/or a fine as high as $2,500.
The rally attendees had moved out to the area designated for “expressive activity” along the street, but later moved back under the shade.
Harvey, who said he was going to run again for the board in 2023, said the ordinance was “attacking people like me” — those who have a concealed handgun permit. He said he would still not be in favor of an ordinance that just allowed concealed permit holders to still carry.
“There is not a rash of violence going on,” he said. “There are no stories of people being assaulted in our county parks, in our county forests, in that building right there — that’s not happening. It’s non-existent. So to take a system in government that has been working flawlessly for decades, possibly centuries, and to radically alter it … I would ask, why would you take something in government with zero problems and then radically change it? Why would you do that unless it’s politically motivated.”
Del. Chris Runion, R-Bridgewater, said he was proud to be able to stand with everyone at the rally.
“We all know the Constitution and the amendments are what protect our rights, and when those things fall away, we are no longer the country that we want to be,” he said. “I am with you. I’m proud to be here with you. I fully support the Second Amendment.”
Runion said the ralliers initially were “all standing there like a bunch of sheep behind signs” feeling like they “didn’t have any right to be there,” as they stood in the designated “expressive activity” area.
Del. Matt Fariss, R-Rustberg, said anybody who is breaking the law doesn’t care how many laws are written — they’re going to do it anyway.
“The men and women that paid for this county land and these county buildings, they certainly deserve the right to all of their amendments and deserve the right to protect themselves,” he said.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said it “wasn’t a good idea” to just exempt concealed handgun permit holders.
“People who don’t have permits have their rights, as well,” he said.
VCDL is part of a lawsuit against Winchester over its similar ordinance, and Van Cleave said the organization is looking at filing a suit against Albemarle.
“This would be a really good place to take it to court,” he said.
Albemarle resident Joe Jones said he was concerned about crossing Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority property to get to his hunting camp.
“How can I go hunting? I have to carry my guns and ammunition to get to my hunting camp,” he said.
“If they feel like they need security at the building, put up metal detectors and everybody with [concealed carry] or carrying can come, check in the weapon, they can secure it and give it back when they leave,” he said. “But they can’t secure it at all these parks and authorities and everything.”
Louisa resident Will Shaw said he came to the rally because he doesn’t “want this kind of travesty in my county.”
Shaw said there was an incident where he had to use a firearm to protect his family and the police response time was three hours.
“There’s that saying in Second Amendment circles, ‘When seconds count, the police are just minutes away,’’’ he said. “Well, in our case, when seconds count, the police were hours away. I won’t forget that. I’m not going to be in a position where I can’t protect my family.”