December 16, 2019
By Mark Chesnut
Emboldened by their takeover of the state house and senate in the November election, anti-gun Virginia Democrats have launched an all-out assault on the Second Amendment-protected right to keep and bear arms. Fortunately for freedom-loving Americans in Virginia and throughout the country, pro-gun activists in the Old Dominion aren’t taking it lying down.
In fact, the pro-freedom grassroots groundswell currently pushing back against the anti-gun proposals is likely the most important and volatile situation currently faced by Second Amendment supporters throughout the country. And all eyes are on Virginia to see what will happen next.
As a little history, on Nov. 5, Virginia Democrats, many flush with cash from Michael Bloomberg’s gun-ban apparatus, managed to win enough seats to take control of both houses of the state legislature. Unfortunately for law-abiding citizens there, vehemently anti-gun Gov. Ralph Northam was already waiting in the wings, chomping at the bit to whittle away the rights of those who have committed no crime.
“They want us to finally pass commonsense gun safety legislation, so no one has to fear being hurt or killed while at school, at work, or at their place of worship,” Northam said of the election results. “I look forward to working with our new Democratic majority to make these priorities a reality.”
Of course, none of us want to fear being hurt or killed at school or anyplace else. However, we know that infringing on the rights of the lawful has no effect on violent felons. And we know that taking guns away from the law-abiding only makes them less safe, not more so.
Such logical sentiment is lost on those who think the only answer to our nation’s problems is more government and more restrictions—arguably what helped cause such problems in the first place. And it didn’t take Virginia Democrats long to prove how little they understand about crime, violence and the Constitution.
Less than two weeks later, these legislators had already gone on the offensive, proposing a measure that would criminalize nearly all private firearm transfers—even temporary ones between family members. House Bill 2 was introduced by Delegate Kenneth Plum and would require that Virginia’s law-abiding citizens seek government permission even to gift, trade and loan firearms to extended family and close friends.
As NRA-ILA pointed out in a recent alert: “Under this extreme legislation, even lending a brother your rifle for a deer hunt or letting your daughter borrow a handgun for self-defense could land otherwise law-abiding Virginians with a felony conviction and up to five years in jail. Additionally, the recipient could face up to a full year of incarceration.”
Of course, most criminals already acquire their firearms through illegal means, anyway. Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with a national sample of state and federal prisoners between January and October 2016 as part of the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI). Among prisoners who possessed a firearm when they committed the offense for which they were imprisoned and who reported the source from which they obtained it, the most common source (43 percent) was off the street or the underground market. Another 7 percent of state and 5 percent of federal prisoners stole the firearm, and 7 percent of state and 8 percent of federal prisoners reported that they obtained the firearm at the location of the crime. About a quarter (26 percent) of state prisoners and about a fifth (21 percent) of federal prisoners obtained their firearm from an individual in another non-retail setting, such as a friend or family member.
Of course, criminals getting guns for future crime sprees aren’t going to pay any attention to a law requiring them to have a background check before being “transferred” a gun by a fellow gang member or stealing one. Consequently, this proposed Virginia law will infringe on the rights of the law-abiding without making a whit of difference to those who don’t follow laws anyway. That’s why they’re called “criminals.”
More recently, these same freedom-hating busybodies introduced a measure that, if passed, would likely lead to widespread confiscation of firearms from law-abiding Virginians. Senate Bill 16, which was introduced by Sen. Richard Saslaw, would create a blanket ban on commonly owned semi-automatic firearms like the AR-15 and other so-called “assault weapons.” And even worse, it contains no grandfather clause.
The legislation states, “It is unlawful for any person to import, sell, transfer, manufacture, purchase, possess, or transport an assault firearm.”
In reality, “assault firearms” are actually fully-automatic firearms used by military forces, and Saslaw and his anti-gun colleagues know that quite well. But, that’s not the guns they are seeking to ban not only the sale of, but ownership, as well.
The ridiculous criteria described in the actual legislation takes in a wide swath of firearms that law-abiding Virginians have owned for decades, along with some that are not so common. Some of the criteria include: a semi-automatic centerfire rifle with a detachable magazine that also has a telescoping stock, pistol grip or muzzle brake (goodbye, AR-15); a semi-auto centerfire pistol with a detachable magazine having a number of criteria including a threaded barrel (plenty of those around, of course); a shotgun with a revolving cylinder (Virginia banned the “Streetsweeper” and Striker-12 many moons ago); and a semi-automatic shotgun with a thumbhole stock or pistol grip stock (look out turkey hunters!).
Obviously, the people who wrote the legislation know nothing about guns, much less the Constitution. Such language would be soundly ridiculed by all gun owners if the ramifications of such a law weren’t so dire.
For guns, they weren’t able to lump into their proposed ban, the anti-gun Democrats managed to put some extra, all-encompassing language in place, just in case they missed something. By adding the phrase, “any characteristic of like kind” after semi-auto rifle, pistol and shotgun criteria, gun-banners hedged their bet to cover just about any firearm they might be able to get a friendly judge to agree should be banned.
Of course, since criminals don’t follow laws, SB 16 would not impact them at all. But law-abiding citizens would have to give up their guns, leaving them less able to protect themselves from well-armed criminals.
Fortunately, those Virginians who appreciate the Constitution and are willing to work hard to protect it were quick to respond. And the response has been overwhelming.
To date, 93 (and growing every day) Virginia counties, cities and towns have declared themselves Second Amendment Sanctuaries and have pledged to fight against the anti-freedom legislation under consideration. And more are passing such a declaration every day!
One county even took it a step further. In addition to passing a Second Amendment Sanctuary Resolution, Tazewell County leaders also passed a Militia Resolution formalizing the creation and maintenance of a de facto civilian militia in the county.
Tom Lester, a member of the county’s board of supervisors, said that both were steps that needed to be taken immediately.
“We understand the implications of this new resolution are potentially enormous, but we also understand the political importance of making the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary,” Lester told Firearms News correspondent Jim Grant. “Declaring our county a Second Amendment Sanctuary is a great first step, however, Virginia is unique because of its constitution. Under Article 1 section 13 of the VA Constitution, VA must maintain a well-regulated militia composed of its people to validate its authority.”
Lester said that subsection of the state Constitution makes it the responsibility of counties to maintain a militia, not a National Guard or other standing army.
“This is because the purpose of the militia is not just to protect the county from domestic danger, but also protect the county from any sort of tyrannical actions from the federal government,” Lester continued. “Our constitution is designed to allow them to use an armed militia as needed. If the (Federal) government takes those arms away, it prevents the county from fulfilling their constitutional duties. But this is not limited to just our county, but also as part of a network of sister counties showing solidarity for both Virginia’s, and the American Constitution.”
For his part, Virginia’s anti-gun Attorney General Mark Herring seems perfectly willing to go against the will of the residents of the 85 counties, cities and towns that have decided they have more faith in the Constitution than in politicians. And he’s happy to lie about the likely results if such laws were to be approved.
“The resolutions that are being passed are being ginned up by the gun lobby to try to scare people,” Herring told CBS 6. “What we’re talking about here are laws that will make our communities and our streets safer. We’re talking about universal background checks, finally, maybe, Virginia will pass universal background checks to make sure that people who are dangerous, who are criminals and who aren’t permitted to buy guns, won’t be able to buy guns. So, when Virginia passes these gun safety laws that they will be followed, they will be enforced.”
Much of the progress made by pro-gun activities since these laws were proposed has been accomplished with the support of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. VCDL is a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots organization dedicated to advancing the fundamental human right of all Virginians to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“I've never seen anything like this,” Philip Van Cleave, VCDL president, said in an exclusive interview with Firearms News. “Regardless of what the governor says, it started with the grassroots. We got involved and are coordinating and helping with it. But the governor is the one that made it happen. He started the fire that’s now a huge inferno, not us. We’re just making sure it’s focused.”
In fact, many meetings of country supervisors, which are normally lucky to have a dozen citizens attending, are drawing crowds numbering in the thousands.
“It was unbelievable when somebody panned the audience in Rockingham County,” Van Cleave said. “They said there were over 3,000 people, and I absolutely believe it. They had a massive gymnasium absolutely jammed with people. Traffic was so bad at that time of night they had to put out an advisory there were so many people going to this thing.”
Another result of the punitive legislation and resulting furor has been a boom in membership for VCDL.
“Last year around this time, our membership was about 6,500,” Van Cleave said. “Right before the election it was at 8,000. Now, I don’t even know what it is. Our membership director is so busy she can’t even stop to tell me. We’ve blown past 10,000 easily. We’re going to double our membership in no time. Which is what we need. We need to be in front of the General Assembly saying we’ve got 16,000 or 20,000 or however many members.”
The groundswell of opposition to the legislation has anti-gun politicians grasping for straws and making threats. After saying the state could withhold funds for law enforcement for jurisdictions that refuse to enforce state laws, Gov. Northam went even further in early December.
“Yesterday, the governor was saying that he would call out the National Guard to go to localities that aren’t enforcing the law and that the National Guard would enforce the law,” Van Cleave said. “And he said that local officials could be charged for not enforcing Virginia law.”
Yet the governor’s threats didn’t even put a speedbump in the road for the pro-freedom movement. Within 48 hours of Northam’s threat, eight more localities voted to become Second Amendment Sanctuaries.
To further push the battle forward, the VCDL has scheduled a major “Lobby Day” for Jan. 20 and is trying to get as many freedom-loving citizens as it can to Richmond to let lawmakers know how they feel about the proposals to dash their God-given rights.
The group has organized bus charters to transport participants from a number of cities and regions, including Roanoke, Shenandoah Valley, Fairfax, Fredericksburg, Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Hampton. In addition, a number of companies, clubs and individuals are arranging and sponsoring charters from other locations throughout the state.
“We normally can turn out 800 to 1,000 in a normal year,” Van Cleave said of the Lobby Day. “We’re not even sure how big this number will be. On Facebook, we have a page set up for people to talk about going to Lobby Day and we already have 6,000 people saying they are going to attend. And I think that’s just a tiny fraction.”
“Our goal, of course, is to send an overwhelming message to the legislators—don’t do this.”
Speakers at the rally will include Dick Heller, plaintiff in the landmark Second Amendment case D.C. v Heller; Cam Edwards, longtime NRANews host now with Bearing Arms and host of the “Cam & Company” YouTube channel; and Jeff Katz, talk show host on Richmond’s powerhouse radio station WRVA.
For his part, Edwards, a Virginia resident who has been reporting on gun legislation in the state for nearly two decades, summarized what many people in the commonwealth are thinking.
“I’ve truly never seen anything like it,” Edwards said. “That’s what everybody says because it’s true.”
Edwards said those politicians who are saying the movement isn’t truly grassroots but was created and being orchestrated by VCDL aren’t telling the truth.
“First of all, this is so hyperlocal,” he said. “This isn’t being directed by any one organization. VCDL is doing a great job of keeping folks informed and being a resource. But it’s not like Philip Van Cleave is going around to each one of these counties and haranguing these supervisors into doing this or convincing people to show up.”
Edwards points to deep-seated concern over the truly horrendous legislation as the real motivator for the groundswell.
“The reason why we’re seeing hundreds and thousands of people showing up at these board of supervisors meetings is because they’re legitimately concerned about what these new laws are going to mean for their rights and the rights of their kids,” he said. “It’s incredible to watch. I hope that we’re able to keep the momentum going and that we’re able to channel it into effective activism once the legislative session begins in January.”
In the end, the situation is so critical that gun-rights advocates throughout the country have their eye on Virginia to see if the grassroots pro-freedom movement there can succeed.
“We’re going to be looking at a piece of history however it turns out,” Van Cleave said. “I’ve never seen a powder keg like this is set up to be. It’s an honor that we are standing at the forefront of this, trying to protect everybody. It all started in Virginia a long, long time ago. And maybe this wave of protection of the Constitution will start in Virginia again.”
“If we’re successful, we’ll have a blueprint for everybody else to follow.”
To learn more about the rally and the fight for gun rights in Virginia, visit Virginia Citizens Defense League’s website at VCDL.org. At that website, you can also sign up for regular updates on the proposed legislation.
Be sure to check back with FirearmsNews.com for more stories on Virginia’s fight for the 2nd Amendment. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Please donate or volunteer in any way you can to assist VCDL and Virginia gun owners.]