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The movement has gained so much steam that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an advisory opinion reminding residents that such “sanctuary” resolutions had no standing.
“It is my opinion that these resolutions have no legal effect,” Herring said in a letter issued Friday. “It is my further opinion that localities and local constitutional officers cannot nullify state laws and must comply with gun violence prevention measures that the General Assembly may enact.”
The Associated Press reports that more than 100 cities, towns and counties have passed such resolutions.
The controversy came just before Democrats take control of both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates for the first time since 1996. Gov. Ralph Northam already pledged to pass “common-sense gun safety legislation” after the November election.
The new General Assembly is expected to vote on two bills in particular — SB 18 and SB 16 — which would ban assault weapons, raise the minimum age of purchase to 21 and require background checks for any firearm transfer.
“It’s just the invasion of someone’s personal rights,” Jim Wood, owner of a Staunton gun shop, told WHSV.
Wood told the Harrisonburg outlet that the Second Amendment “plainly states that we’re allowed to bear arms.”
“When they start picking apart at it, then all of a sudden it becomes the anti-gun laws that they’ve had in other countries,” he said.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), a gun-rights group that provides a model resolution, claims that 85 of Virginia’s 95 counties have already approved so-called sanctuary measures. At least nine cities and 17 towns have done the same, the group said.
The group is also planning a protest for Jan. 20 on the steps of the Capitol. VCDL has posted pictures purportedly showing packed crowds at boards of supervisors meetings in more than a dozen localities.
The resistance has also reached law enforcement. Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins has already vowed to deputize citizens if Democrats pass gun control.
On Wednesday, VCDL posted a video showing a rapid increase in sanctuary resolutions since November, when Democrats won their majority in the state’s General Assembly.
Localities across the United States — including Florida, California, New Mexico and Washington — have passed or considered similar measures.
VCDL’s model resolution refers to a number of Constitutional provisions and Supreme Court decisions before calling out the potential for gun restrictions in Virginia.
“Certain legislation that has or may be introduced in the Virginia General Assembly, and certain legislation which has or may be introduced in the United States Congress could have the effect of infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 13 of the Constitution of Virginia.”
Northam seemed unphased by the potential backlash in November. “I don’t think there’s anything to be afraid of,” he said, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
But according to VCDL President Phillip Van Cleave, Democrats have awakened a “sleeping giant.” and “declared war on Virginia’s gun owners,” Van Cleave said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.