Mayor Levar Stoney wants to bar people from carrying guns in city-owned buildings and parks, catapulting Richmond into a debate on whether outlawing firearms in public spaces makes them safer.
Stoney introduced an ordinance at Monday’s City Council meeting to ban guns in City Hall, city-owned buildings, public parks and other community facilities. Under current state law, such a ban is not allowed, and the city could not enforce Stoney’s ordinance. However, the mayor said he believes that could change when state lawmakers convene for a special session on gun measures next month.
“I don’t want to wait to start this process until after we’ve been granted the authority,” Stoney said at a news conference announcing his proposal Monday.
The Virginia General Assembly will meet July 9. Gov. Ralph Northam called for the special session after a man shot and killed 12 people and injured four others at Virginia Beach’s government center last month. The shooter, a city employee, was killed by police.
The shooting — the deadliest in Virginia since a gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 — renewed calls from state Democrats for tighter restrictions on guns. Stoney said he wrote Northam a letter earlier this month and requested state legislation giving localities the authority to ban guns in municipal buildings and parks.
If approved by state lawmakers and the City Council, Richmond could become the first locality in the state with such restrictions.
In the wake of the mass shooting, Virginia Beach’s City Council quashed a resolution expressing support for a similar ban. Opponents of the ban cast it as a knee-jerk reaction to the shooting, and some expressed a feeling that more people with guns, not fewer, would make municipal buildings safer, the Virginian-Pilot reported.
Council members who opposed the ban cited reluctance to take up the divisive issue while the community was still grieving the shooting’s victims.
Virginia Beach has a policy forbidding employees from bringing guns to municipal buildings. Richmond also bars its employees from carrying firearms while on the job. Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties have similar policies.
In remarks Monday, Stoney referenced the Virginia Beach shooting as well as the death of Markiya Dickson, a 9-year-old who was shot and killed in Carter Jones Park in South Richmond at a Memorial Day celebration last month. An 11-year-old boy was also injured by gunfire there.
“The fact that we lost a child — a family lost a child — in a public park … that should not happen to any other family in this city,” Stoney said.
Council members had mixed responses to the proposal.
Councilwoman Kristen Larson, of the 4th District, and Andreas Addison, of the 1st District, said they were open to discussing a ban.
“I think it’s good, especially considering recent events, to make sure that we’re safe and that residents enjoying our city are also safe,” Addison said. “There’s more to that than just a ban on guns, but I know this is a conversation that needs to be had.”
Councilwoman Kimberly Gray, of the 2nd District, cast the ordinance as hollow until state law changes. Any reforms Democrats push for at the special session likely face long odds in the Republican-controlled state legislature.
“Until you win General Assembly approval, it’s just noise,” Gray said.
Councilman Michael Jones, of the 9th District, said he supports the ban.
“We want to ensure employees are safe, residents are safe and members of council are safe as well,” Jones said.
On Monday night, Jones pursued a separate council vote on whether to install metal detectors at City Hall. A majority of the council decided to refer the matter to its Public Safety committee.
Metal detectors were installed at City Hall after 9/11, but they were removed during L. Douglas Wilder’s tenure as mayor. The council considered reinstalling them in 2011 after separate shootings involving an Arizona congresswoman and a Florida school board.
The council’s Governmental Operations Standing Committee is scheduled to discuss Stoney’s ordinance Thursday. If cleared by the committee, the full council could vote on the ban at its July 22 meeting.