POWHATAN – On Nov. 25, 2019, the board of supervisors became one of the early localities in Virginia to adopt a resolution declaring Powhatan a Second Amendment Sanctuary county.
The decision was part of a trend sweeping the state, with several news providers reporting last week that around 100 counties, cities, and towns in Virginia have approved similar resolutions. The resolutions came after the General Election 2019 resulted in a democrat-controlled General Assembly taking office this month and the promise of stricter gun laws in the mix.
At the Nov. 25 meeting, all five supervisors expressed support of the Second Amendment, but two members stood firm in a call to get some answers about the implications of the resolution. David Williams, District 1, and Carson Tucker, District 5, wanted to have a workshop with Brad Nunnally, sheriff, and Richard “Dickie” Cox, commonwealth’s attorney, to discuss how they might enforce such an action by the board of supervisors.
To date, the new board, which will be sworn in on Jan. 2, has not officially announced plans to have that meeting. So, the Powhatan Today sat down with the two constitutional officers to get their perspectives on the issue. Shown here is an abridged version of the 40-minute conversation with the two men, who are passionate on the topic and more than willing to share their views.
Enforcing sanctuary status
Powhatan Today: What does the Second Amendment Sanctuary status mean for law enforcement in Powhatan County?
Cox: As of right now it is just a symbolic status that has been proclamated by the board of supervisors based on the will of the people, their constituents, the people who voted for them. I think it is a good thing people are participating in government. I think it is a good thing that people in Richmond understand the perspective of rural counties. As far as law enforcement, Brad and myself, we are not making any proclamation. I will always take the position let’s wait and see what happens. A bill has a long way to go from the time it is introduced, especially this day and age, when it is more political showmanship than it is actual law. So let’s wait and see what happens.
Nunnally: The governor’s statement through (Mark) Herring the other day was accurate. The Second Amendment Sanctuary stuff carries no weight; it is symbolic. But I think it is a good message to send to the governor that there are enough people that are in disagreement with what he thinks is constitutional and they want to let him know. I think this was a good way to do it. It is a little better than your standard writing letter campaigns and emailing your governor campaigns. It actually showed people were willing to take some action other than email and Facebook their issues. Herring was correct when he said it is symbolic. Where he was incorrect is I don’t take law enforcement orders from the attorney general. I didn’t much care for the statement that we were going to enforce it. I take orders from the citizens of Powhatan County not the attorney general’s offices.
Cox: And I certainly know who I work for, and it is not Mark Herring.
Nunnally: Neither Dickie nor I work for Powhatan or the board of supervisors or county administration. We work for the citizens here in Powhatan who put us in office. That is what is so good about this constitutional system that we work under. We are allowed to react to what the public wants, what the citizens want. There is not much red tape between Dickie’s office or my office and the citizens. We are directly accessible and directly reportable to them. That is why I picked this system.
Powhatan Today: How do you balance that responsibility with your oath to uphold the laws of Virginia?
Cox: Both of us will tell you we are going to uphold the constitution that we took an oath to uphold. So, Richmond needs to know be very careful when you are making law.
Nunnally: Dickie and I are very aware that we don’t decide on the law. But we work with constitutional requirements every day in our job, and we have seen bad legislation before. This isn’t the first bad legislation we have ever seen. And discretion is the hallmark of law enforcement. There are very few codes that say shall in the code section, and from what I have seen so far, this one isn’t one of them. If the attorney (general’s) office or the governor’s office thinks they are going to remove discretion from my job, it is a mistake. This is how the system works. The public has input in their community into how they want to see their laws enforced. And we have the ability to react to that. I don’t plan on changing that, whether it is a Second Amendment issue or whether it is anything else. … I will use every bit of discretion I have to resist any Second Amendment changes that are apparently unconstitutional on their face and I will certainly resist as much of it as I possibly can. I have no intention of going out and depriving people of a right. That is not going to change, whether it is this or anything else.
Cox: I think one of the things that a lot of people don’t understand is they are scared that the federal government is going to, in some way, come take our guns. But the federal government is not going to participate in this at all. This is state. So the FBI, the ATF, all of them, they are not coming to take your guns.
Nunnally: A lot of folks need to be careful. Their news sources seem to be what they read on Facebook. I keep up with a lot of Facebook sites because it is good for us to know what is going on in the county. And a lot of stuff I have seen is false. Some of the interpretations of the bills that are put forth were not correct. With the (Virginia Sherriff’s Association), I am on the legislative committee and I have already voted against the official versions we got that the governor’s office first put forth. They were bad enough on their own. The big one for awhile was that there was going to be no more youth hunting. That was a big Facebook post out for two or three weeks. Everybody was up in arms that they weren’t going to allow youth hunting days or youth to hunt under the age of 18 unless they were accompanied by an adult. None of that was ever proposed. That was never even on the radar. … Once in awhile I will get a phone call about something that is just not accurate. I use it as an opportunity to fill them on what I do know and to let them know I certainly don’t offer any support for any of the legislation I have seen. I haven’t seen a bill yet in regard to Second Amendment rights that I found acceptable.
Cox: To me, the most frustrating part is that, if they could point to this legislation and say it is going to solve a problem, I think many of us would be more onboard. But the legislation is just that – it is legislation. It is partisan politics to appease a group of people but it is not going to solve any alleged gun problem. Most of these shootings that have sparked this political fad deal with mental issues. We are never going to stop the domestic-related issues because we pass a bill. Those are crimes of passion. Criminals are never going to jump through the hoops. So, I think it is very frustrating and disingenuous that these legislators present these bills just to play politics and get votes. It is not going to solve any problems. It has been said – and I will sound like one of these gun advocates – but a gun has never killed a person; it is just people that kill people.
Nunnally: It does come down to the same tired old argument sometimes that you hear, but the fact is, guns don’t commit crimes. There is a certain segment of the population that wants to hold an inanimate object responsible for people’s misdeeds.
Powhatan Today: What about arguments that not making any changes doesn’t solve any issues either?
Cox: Look at what has been done over the most recent years in addressing the mental health issue. It used to be that when we ran a criminal history, if you were involuntarily committed, that didn’t show up. Now we know those kind of things. It is part of the Virginia code now that you can’t possess or use a firearm if you have been involuntarily committed. It is not like it is stagnant. It is not like the law isn’t evolving. We are seeing issues and people are agreeing on certain things. I think those were probably bi-partisan issues. These are the types of people that are committing these offenses. But to restrict what law-abiding citizens already have, to say you can’t have a magazine that holds a certain number of cartridges, to say you can no longer possess this type of firearm, to allow the government to come in and take your property, is scary. And I don’t think anybody truly wants that.
Nunnally: Dickie is right. The only people that are saying nothing ever changes are the ones who weren’t able to get gun legislation passed. They are not saying that about any other legislation. If the gun legislation didn’t pass, then nobody did anything about anything. It might be because that was not the answer in the first place. It didn’t get passed because it shouldn’t have gotten passed. So something did happen – bad legislation got shot down.
Cox: Because that legislation is knee-jerk legislation. Something bad happens, then we have to point a finger. We have to blame somebody because that is the American way nowadays. Instead of looking at it and finding the real problem, let’s just blame somebody and make a new law. … I think we have enough laws.
Nunnally: We’ve got enough laws to cover every situation. If legislators would quit worrying about passing new laws and fund the laws we already have … because the biggest issue we have with mental health is funding. It is not cost efficient for hospitals to keep medical staff on psych wards, so they don’t. We funnel everybody through emergency rooms. It is eight to 12 hours for me to get somebody into a bed if I successfully get them into a bed for mental health treatment. … My opinions on firearms, I don’t expect them to be everybody’s opinions on firearms. That is not what this country is about either. There are plenty of people that disagree with me 100 percent that think every gun out there is evil and they should all be gone. My opinion is they are living in a fantasy world, but that is a valid opinion for somebody. I think it is wrong, and I hope they are never successful in pushing their opinion to code because we do have a constitution that puts forth some things that hopefully keep those extremes from ever taking hold.
Cox: You have people talk about nothing being done. It has just been recent that you have the violation for someone to have a gun during a protective order or someone who has been convicted of domestic assault. Don’t tell me nothing has to be done. A lot has been done to restrict guns from certain people, and I don’t think anybody has argued about that stuff. But now, where are we going with this? Are you going to come to my house? That is what the people are scared of – the government coming to their house and taking what they have bought or accumulated as a law-abiding citizen in this country. We don’t want to have to go down that road.
Powhatan Today: Going forward, what is your advice for residents wanting to be law-abiding but also seeking to protect their Second Amendment rights?
Cox: Don’t think because the board enacted this, don’t think because Brad and I have this position that you should sit on your hands. Continue to let the people in Richmond know where you stand. That is the way it is supposed to be – it is the people’s will. They don’t know it if you don’t say it.