Surry Board stops short of declaring county 2A Sanctuary

By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: December 16, 2019 | 11:37 a.m.

SURRY  – The mood of the record crowd at this month’s Surry County Board of Supervisors meeting took a swift downward turn when, despite the estimated 700 local citizens there in support of the county joining with other counties across the state as Second Amendment Sanctuaries, the board, instead, adopted what most considered a milder version that did not include the words “Second Amendment Sanctuary.”  

The recent movement toward counties banding together under the designation Second Amendment Sanctuary has been sweeping the state as a result of widespread concern among gun-owners that Democrats, who ran largely on gun control issues, won majorities in both the Senate and the House in the November elections and are now set to take full control of state government come January. The conversation surrounding gun reform had been ongoing in the Commonwealth for several years when it was propelled into the foreground following the deadly workplace shooting at Virginia Beach’s municipal building in May that left 12 people dead, leading to a special session of the General Assembly being called in July by Governor Ralph Northam. The gist of the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement is that municipalities are saying that they will not enforce state laws that infringe on residents’ right to bear arms. 

Confusion at the Surry BOS meeting began early on. The resolution concerning the Second Amendment had been placed on the Consent Agenda along with a number of other resolutions of a non-related nature.  Supervisor Seward made a motion that it be removed from the consent items. When it was, Administrator Lynn read the resolution aloud. 

Gun rights supporters speak during the public comments portion of the Surry Board of Supervisors meeting this month. (Terry Harris)

Following the reading of the board’s resolution, as local supporter of the sanctuary designation described it saying, “Chairman Drewry just said, ‘Everybody here tonight is here in support of the Second Amendment. So we’re going to bring that up front.’  They had one that they wrote that they liked that they didn’t pass in front of everybody or have any comments or anything else. It was all over before even the comments section on the agenda.  It was just ‘All in favor say Aye, they said Aye, and that’s how it was done. That was it!”

Many in the crowd headed toward the parking lots after hearing only that “The Resolution” had passed, not realizing that it did not contain the words “Second Amendment Sanctuary.”  As the realization dawned, several members of the crowd still inside the courtroom went out outside the building, calling to those leaving to “Come back!  Come back in!  It’s not over!  They voted for the wrong thing.” 

Sheriff’s deputies, who had turned back hundreds of people attempting to enter the courtroom when the maximum capacity of 203 was reached 20 minutes before the meeting began, were once again required to monitor the number in the room. And once again supporters filled the courtroom, the lobby, and lined up outside, many sporting bright orange Virginia Citizens Defense League stickers saying “Guns Save Lives.” Those inside lined the walls and filled the spaces between the back pews and the wall to the point that passage through was nearly impossible.  For about the next two hours, they stood quietly while the board conducted other business, awaiting the opportunity to address their concerns when the Citizen Comments section of the agenda was reached. 

When the time for comments arrived, Chairman Drewry told the crowd that there would not be a question and answer session, and only comments were to be entertained.  Over thirty people came forward, one after the other, to speak their piece on the sanctuary designation. Not one spoke against it. Most explained their concerns and reasoning passionately but respectfully. 

For more than an hour, citizens came forward one after another to ask that board members rescind their just-adopted resolution in favor of a stronger one and join Surry County together with other counties like adjoining Sussex County that already had adopted the Second Amendment Sanctuary designation. Several veterans expressed the feeling that, while they had once written a check with their lives for the country, now the board should stand with them in opposition to proposed new gun laws.  A member of the Virginia Citizens’ Defense League came forward and said that he had sent in the VCDL wording for the resolution and asked that a discussion of that be put on the agenda. He complained that, while he was in possession of an email in response to his, assuring him that it would be on the night’s agenda, it was not. Two speakers expressed their disappointment in what they indicated as disinterest or inattention to their concerns by some board members who were seldom making eye contact with the speakers.  Parents spoke of their concerns about being able to protect their children, or for their children to be able to protect themselves, especially in isolated areas of the largely rural county. Speakers questioned if board members realized that if the proposed laws were passed, the simple act of taking one’s own child out on family land to teach them to use a firearm could result in both the parent and the child being labeled a felon. 

Delegate Emily Brewer (R-64) gives impassioned speech asking BOS to replace their Resolution with stronger one declaring Surry County a Second Amendment Sanctuary (Terry Harris)

Nearly every speaker’s comments drew applause, but the most enthusiastic response came when Virginia State Delegate Emily Brewer approached the podium.

Her extemporaneous comments ran, in part, “Very rarely will you ever see me come before the board except in in such an extreme circumstance like this… several bills have been filed (that are) not only intended to control firearm usage and ownership – almost direct elimination of firearm ownership, which is not only egregious it is absolutely an assault to the Second Amendment.” 

She then addressed “opportunities that lie in front of you tonight” and cited the opportunity to stand with the large number of counties that “have already either passed a Second Amendment Sanctuary or have one pending.” 

“If you look around this room,” she added, “you see a whole lot of hard-working people who live in rural areas and you have the opportunity  to direct other people across the state and let the colleagues I now serve with know how you feel – how it’s an assault on the way people live here in this county.”

“Ten percent of the people that live in Surry County – over 700 – are here in between this room and outside right now,” she continued. “Ten percent…. I promise you, you guys are at a crossroads tonight. You have the opportunity to come forward with this resolution, add some teeth to it and send it back to my colleagues in the General Assembly. Let us know where you stand….  Forty six other boards across this Commonwealth have said we will stand with our citizens, and you have the opportunity to stand with everybody in this room and everybody still out there standing in the cold to let them know you support their right to bear arms. They need you. And they want you to stand up… They want to know that you stand up for them. They really truly do. So I’m asking you kindly after public comments close tonight that you reconsider bringing up this resolution, going with a different format. Make sure you stand with the citizens of Surry County would be my humble request to you. Thank you.”

Shortly afterward, the board went into closed session to discuss an unrelated matter. Many from the crowd left, but some lingered in the lobby, discussing the meeting and future plans concerning the outcome.

During the break, Sheriff Turner, who was wearing one of the orange VCDL stickers, shared a prepared statement that he had not have an opportunity to read when the Comments Section was closed before his turn. “I totally support – I’m a very proud supporter of the Second Amendment,” Turner said.  “I want to go on record just to support this resolution as an elected constitutional officer of Surry County. I took an oath of office to uphold and support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and also the Commonwealth of Virginia and in fact by the oath of office I am obligated to not enforce a law that’s unconstitutional.” 

Sheriff Turner, wearing a VCDL sticker, shares the prepared statement he did not get to read into the minutes before Public Comments were closed. (Terry Harris)

“I will always ensure that all law-abiding citizens here in Surry County have the right to keep and bear arms!” he added. “I believe in pro-gun ownership by all respectfully law-abiding citizens”

During the same break, Brewer, when asked for her thoughts on the failure of the Surry County BOS to join with Sussex County and others across the state to declare a Second Amendment Sanctuary Resolution, reiterated, “This board has the unique opportunity to stand with the citizens. If you look at the number of people that were here tonight, about 10% of Surry County was present in or outside of this building before the meeting got started, and I think that’s a very strong message from Surry County residents about how they feel. In fact tonight there was not one person who stood up and spoke against the … Second Amendment Sanctuary…. I will tell you this: there were many other boards across this Commonwealth – we’re near the 50% mark of localities that have passed a Second Amendment Sanctuary Resolution or have one pending. And if they have the confidence to do such, there is no reason that Surry County cannot do the same to ensure that the County residents that are here feel like their voices and not only heard, but respected.”

“You could tell that they feel supremely passionate about this,” she said. “You could feel how important this is to them.”

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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