BUCKINGHAM, Va. — A crowd of more than 400 packed the meeting room, filled the lobby and spilled into the parking lot recently in rural Buckingham County, Va. They had one thing on their minds: guns.
The vast majority favored a proposal to protect their right to carry firearms: declaring the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary.
Similar scenes have played out across Virginia over the last six weeks. Gun owners are descending on local offices to demand that their government leaders establish sanctuaries for gun rights.
The resolutions, promoted by the gun rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League, vary, but most declare the intention of local officials to oppose any “unconstitutional restrictions” on the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. In the last two months, more than 100 counties, cities and towns in Virginia have approved such resolutions.
The current movement began last year in Illinois and quickly spread to numerous states, including California, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida.
In Virginia, home to the National Rifle Association’s headquarters, lawmakers in both parties have traditionally supported gun rights. But in recent years, Democrats have backed tighter restrictions on guns.
The Second Amendment Sanctuary movement began after Democrats promising new gun control laws took over both chambers of the state legislature in the Nov. 5 election.
Gun control proposals gained momentum after a shooter killed 12 people and injured four others at a Virginia Beach municipal building in May. But a special legislative session called by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam after the mass shooting failed to produce any new gun control bills when Republicans shut it down after just 90 minutes.
Gun control advocates are now proposing an array of new restrictions, including universal background checks, assault weapon bans and red flag laws that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
One proposal by incoming Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw has enflamed gun rights advocates and helped fuel the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement. The bill, as initially proposed, would make it a felony to sell, manufacture, purchase or possess assault weapons and certain magazines. Saslaw has since said that allowing current owners to keep their weapons “makes sense,” and he expects to amend the bill. Many see Saslaw’s bill as the first step that will end with their guns being taken away.
“We have the right to defend our households and we have the right to defend ourselves — period,” said Jake Eubanks, 35, of Buckingham County, about 75 miles west of Richmond, where officials approved a sanctuary resolution earlier this month.
Darrell Miller, co-director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law, said the sanctuary movement is largely a phenomenon in rural communities, where people have grown up hunting and treasure their guns.
“For whatever reasons, people, especially in these communities, have a deep-seated fear that universal firearm confiscation is just around the corner,” Miller said.
David Campbell, vice chairman of the Effingham County Board in Illinois, said his county was one of the first in the nation to pass a Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution in April 2018. Campbell said he and a local prosecutor chose the word “sanctuary” as a swipe at Democratic leaders who used the word to describe their refusal to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement in the “sanctuary cities” movement.
“We thought, well, if they can do that, why can’t we make Effingham County a sanctuary for legal, law-abiding gun owners?” Campbell said.
Today, 70 out the 102 counties in Illinois have approved the resolutions, Campbell said.