The Martinsville City Council on Tuesday joined the list of local governments across Virginia who backing a push to protect gun rights because some citizens’ fear the state legislature will move to restrict them.
The council voted, 3-1, with one abstaining, to adopt a resolution naming Martinsville a Second Amendment “sanctuary.”
And even that word “sanctuary” had to be added at the end.
Mayor Kath Lawson brought this concept to the council following a whirlwind meeting last month in which the Henry County Board of Supervisors adopted language being pushed by guns rights’ activists, some of whom fear that the Democrat-controlled state government will move to restrict their rights.
City Attorney and Assistant City Manager Eric Monday explained at the outset of the meeting, attended by a roomful of residents and backers, that this resolution was patterned after one written for Culpepper. He then read it into the record.
Council member Danny Turner wanted to know if the city has the authority to declare itself a “sanctuary city,” which would suggest the gun laws that might be passed by the state wouldn’t have full impact within city limits. Most observers feel this movement, though, is largely symbolic.
Monday said it was his opinion the resolution does not put the city at risk of doing anything illegal.
“The word ‘sanctuary’ does not appear in the resolution,” he said.
Lawson, Vice Mayor Chad Martin and council member Jim Woods voted for the resolution, and Turner voted against it. Council member Jennifer Bowles abstained.
“I’m voting in favor of this resolution. It is incumbent upon us to hold state legislators to account, and I don’t even own a gun,” Wood said.
Bowles said she is a gun owner and has a conceal-carry permit but that she was unsure if such a resolution is necessary.
“I spoke to many people about this resolution,” she said. “It’s my job to listen to all sides and make a decision that is in the best interest of all city residents. I do not support any legislation that allows the government to come and take away my guns.
“I believe the talk about confiscation of guns is a scare tactic. Until that happens, we don’t need a resolution. If that happens, I’ll be the first to stand up and speak against it. At this time I believe this resolution won’t help anything.”
Turner said the proper action is to lobby legislation and then argue any new laws in the state Supreme Court.
Martin harkened Shakespeare: “When evil is around, you have to have good men to do something about it. We need to make sure that people with mental health issues can’t get a gun. My father taught us gun safety at an early age.”
Said Lawson: “It should not be so easy for someone to own a gun, but for me to tell someone they don’t have a right to own a gun. … It’s not my right.”
At Turner’s request, the resolution was amended and passed to include the word “sanctuary.”
That made the few dozen crowded into council chambers very happy. Before the vote several residents had spoken passionately about why they believe in the Second Amendment and their right to protect themselves.
Charles Cousins of Top Street was the first to speak: “The first defense to criminal defense is ourselves. That’s why we have the right to defend ourselves.”
Joshua Jennings, a gun store owner, said he was speaking on behalf of his customers.
“No citizen should be treated as a second-class citizen just because they exercise their right to bear arms,” Jennings said. “We have a right to protect ourselves and our property.”
Melody Cartwright says she has her conceal-carry permit but that for “the past 10 years, I’ve been more concerned about legal gun owners than the bad guys.”
Said Nelson Evans: “Some say that what is happening in Virginia with the resolutions, that they are illegal. I’m not here to debate. I’m here to say they are wrong.”
Ural Harris asked the council to “adopt this and send a message to Richmond.”
But James Hyler opposed the resolution.
“The Second Amendment can be ruled upon, and there can be regulations added,” he said. “When you live in a democracy, you have to respect the rights of others. You don’t need any and every weapon to be safe.”
Sam Wells told the story of how his wife, Lola, was going to work at 2 in the morning and was approached by some individuals.
“She had a handgun and a cellphone,” he said. “Until the police came to assist my wife, anything could have happened. I commend the police and my wife.”
Ellen Jesse also opposed the resolution.
“I come from a family of gun owners,” she said. “My father taught me the danger of guns and gun safety. My right to be alive and not be shot is very important to me. I urge law-abiding gun owners to have compassion for others.”
Joseph Rozella is 28 years old and has three children.
“I hunt with a bow,” he said. “I push y’all to allow us the ability to defend. Where is the line drawn?“
Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt