POWHATAN – The Powhatan County Board of Supervisors recently decided in a split vote to pass a resolution declaring Powhatan a Second Amendment Sanctuary county.
In front of a packed house during the board’s meeting on Monday, Nov. 25 at the Village Building, the supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of adopting a resolution that vows opposition to potential bills being proposed for the next General Assembly session that supporters say would infringe on their Second Amendment rights.
Chairwoman Angie Cabell, who represents District 3, Larry Nordvig, District 2, and Bill Melton, District 4, voted to pass a resolution brought forward during the meeting by Jean Gannon, chairwoman of the Powhatan County Republican Committee. The resolution Gannon presented took a stronger stance than one the board was originally considering, which discussed the supervisors’ oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution without specifically seeking to adopt a Second Amendment Sanctuary designation.
David Williams, District 1, and Carson Tucker, District 5, while both voicing support of the Second Amendment, voted against the resolution. They had asked the board to hold a workshop with Powhatan County Commonwealth’s Attorney Dickie Cox and Sheriff Brad Nunnally to help the board and the public understand what being a Second Amendment Sanctuary means and how it would be enforced.
The board’s actions come on the heels of decisions made by other counties in Virginia and states around the nation to adopt a Second Amendment Sanctuary designation. In Virginia, the movement started to gather steam after democrats won control of the General Assembly in the 2019 General Election. Some of the other localities that have also passed similar sanctuary resolutions include Giles, Dinwiddie, Pittsylvania, Campbell, Appomattox, Charlotte, and Carroll counties.
Right to bear arms
The public comment period was dominated by people voicing concerns surrounding the Second Amendment with 14 out of the 15 comments made on that subject.
The period started with Gannon’s presentation of her alternative resolution and the reasons she was asking the board to support it.
Gannon’s resolution reiterated the right to bear arms, as guaranteed by the Constitution, and then addressed proposed legislation and language of support from Governor Ralph Northam “that is unconstitutional as it pertains to the rights enumerated in the U.S. and Virginia Constitution.”
The resolution states the board’s intention to oppose “within the limits of the Constitution of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia, any efforts to unconstitutionally restrict such rights, and to use such legal means at its disposal to protect the right of the citizens to keep and bear arms, including through legal action, the power of appropriation of public funds, and the right to petition for redress of grievances, and the direction to the law enforcement and judiciary of Powhatan County to not enforce any unconstitutional law.”
Gannon said that the arguments to deny adopting the resolution are political and weak.
“The fact that the state and federal government may withhold funding because we stand tall to support our Constitution is not only wrong, but it is illegal, especially in light of the quid-pro-quo inquiries we have been exposed to for the past two weeks,” she said.
Gannon’s speech was met with a standing ovation from the majority of the room and followed by a variety of comments along the same lines.
Resident Steve Jenkins read a small portion of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He denounced legislators’ plans to “infringe on our liberties” and asked the board to declare their intention to “honor, respect, defend, and affirm our founding document” and, more specifically, “our right to bear arms.”
Cecil Youngblood said individuals must stand up and keep the right to bear arms to protect Powhatan from turning into something it isn’t. Citizens have to have guns, keep them, and use them responsibly, he said.
“This county has to stand strong to protect the rights of the citizens who make this country a great country. We want to be a county that stands tall,” he said.
Jake Florence talked about moving to Powhatan about a year and a half ago and finding Powhatan a special place to live.
“It feels so much freer out here – so open and rural and it just feels perfect. I think that is something we need to preserve. I think that is what this 2A sanction is about – we need to stand up for it and you the good members of our board are the line of defense that we are depending on right now,” he said.
Richard Brown said when it comes to the Second Amendment, gun rights are often equated with hunting. The Second Amendment is not about hunting or sport; “it is about my life, my liberty. It is about all these people’s liberty.”
About 40 minutes into the meeting, the board’s discussion about this issue started with Melton pointedly asking Nordvig why he “felt like he needed to have a watered down version in our packet.”
The resolution that Nordvig proposed and that was in the board packet available to the public was focused on “reaffirming the Powhatan Board of Supervisors’ commitment to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.”
It listed some of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights that the board would commit to uphold, including “being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” “nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
Nordvig explained he “wanted something quick” because of the movement gaining momentum in Virginia in response to what he considers “deeply disturbing bills that have been pre-filed in Richmond, Virginia, inexcusable in my opinion.” He said he did not have access to the templates circling around regarding a Second Amendment Sanctuary designation but he didn’t want to be silent.
Nordvig said he is personally in support of being a Second Amendment Sanctuary and had signed a petition Gannon circulated regarding the resolution. But he said he respects the right of the new and coming board to fully understand the meaning and implications of the sanctuary resolution.
Some of Nordvig’s comments would be echoed by Williams and Tucker, who both called for a workshop on the topic to include the existing board, incoming board members, and Nunnally and Cox.
Williams repeatedly stressed the desire to have a better understanding of what the designation means and what they would be asking of local law enforcement in regard to how they uphold the laws passed by the General Assembly. He pointed out the lack of a singular definition or parameters for the designation or the long-term impacts of trying to live by it.
In talking with people about the issue, Williams said he found everyone had slightly different interpretations of what the designation did or didn’t do.
“Some people thought it would be a complete nullification of any laws that are enacted down at the General Assembly that we don’t like – that weaken our Second Amendment rights. That is not the case. So, I think it is very important that we have that workshop within the public where we go through, OK, if they do pass, for example the Red Flag law, how is that going to be either ignored or is it going to be served by the sheriff? What exactly is going to happen with your constitutional officers,” he said.
He also cautioned that if the board did take action that citizens didn’t go home “and think that you’ve got certain protections that you might not have.”
Tucker pointed out that everyone agrees in principle Powhatan is a Second Amendment county and they are just arguing over specific pieces of that. He suggested endorsing Nordvig’s resolution, which he called a “temporary template,” and agreed with Williams’ suggestion of a workshop held no later than Dec. 31.
“This is a weighty issue with passionate advocates and we need not only do our own due diligence but we need not to react just to emotional aspects of the issue. We must ask what we are getting ready to do and what the longterm consequences thereof might be,” Tucker said.
‘Loud and clear message’
Meanwhile, Melton and Cabell from the start took strong stances to support Gannon’s suggested resolution in its cry to make Powhatan a Second Amendment Sanctuary. Melton commended Nordvig for beginning the process with his resolution but argued the board needed “to send a loud and clear message now.”
Melton proposed the board adopt Gannon’s resolution but amend it to add some of the language from Nordvig’s resolution regarding upholding the Bill of Rights.
“I truly agree with the citizens here tonight that we need to send a loud and clear message now and that we should not wait for the next board to have to deal with this,” Melton said.
Cabell said her concern with Nordvig’s resolution is that it did not address the use of public funds or any legal means, which are both mentioned in Gannon’s resolution.
“I think that if you want to talk about substantive and effect for maximum impact, you talk about money and law. So, if we do truly want to be substantive and effective for maximum impact, then I think we should support the resolution that Jean Gannon has brought us,” she said.
Although she didn’t think adding language from Nordvig’s resolution was necessary, Cabell seconded Melton’s motion to approve the resolution mentioning the sanctuary status.
Tipping the scales
The discussion continued between the board members with them essentially repeating their arguments for a workshop and gathering more information versus immediately adopting the sanctuary status.
The issue came to a head right before the vote when Nordvig, who was visibly conflicted, ultimately decided to support the sanctuary designation. Nordvig regularly makes the argument that the residents of Powhatan are the supervisors’ bosses so the board members need to listen to what they have to say.
When he voted in favor of Gannon’s resolution, he said he thinks it is a “good idea to drill down deeper into this.” However, the people who spoke and came out in support of the sanctuary designation convinced him to vote in favor of it, he said.
At the end of the meeting, three citizens stood up and said they were glad the board of supervisors passed the sanctuary resolution. However, each man asked the board to continue with the proposal Williams and Tucker pushed for – to have a workshop to fully flush out and discuss this issue with the constitutional officers who would be charged with upholding that task.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.