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Albemarle board unanimously approves banning of guns on county property
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Albemarle board unanimously approves banning of guns on county property

Second Amendment rally

Protesters gather outside the Albemarle County Office Building on McIntire Road in August 2021 to speak against a proposed ordinance to ban guns on county-owned property.

Firearms soon will be banned from many Albemarle County-owned properties.

On Wednesday, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance to ban guns from buildings, parks and community centers owned or used by the county for governmental purposes. Notice will need to be posted at all entrances of buildings, parks and recreation and community center facilities that are covered.

Supervisors said the ordinance was needed due to intimidation and the need for local control.

Board Chairman Ned Gallaway said Albemarle has asked the state for more local control when it comes to being responsible for its property, and it has not been granted it in some cases.

Since 2018, after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, the board has asked the General Assembly to add Albemarle to the list of localities in which carrying specified loaded weapons in public areas is prohibited, but has been unsuccessful.

During the 2020 session, state lawmakers granted localities the authority to ban weapons from buildings and events. Albemarle does not currently have a permitting process for events outside of its public parks, so events are not included in its ordinance

“But in this, the state granted us the authority to make decisions about our property,” Gallaway said. “We are the current board who gets to make those decisions and this board has consistently said we’re going to go ahead and put into place that we have control over that we previously didn’t.”

The board held a public hearing and gave feedback on a proposed ordinance in July but did not take a vote.

Since then, additional exceptions were made for officers or guards of state correctional facilities acting within the scope of their duties; judges or justices; mail carriers acting within the scope of their duties; qualified conservators of the peace; and persons participating in an authorized ceremonial event.

Also included is an exception that a person who “may lawfully possess a firearm” can keep one in their personal, private vehicle or boat “provided the firearm is secured in a container or compartment in the vehicle.”

A provision allowing the county executive to grant other individuals an exception was removed.

No exception for concealed handgun permit holders was included.

County Attorney Greg Kamptner discussed the “legal framework” for the ordinance.

“Parks and community centers provide amenities and programs to people of all ages. They have programs specifically tailored to children [and] a large number of people congregate in these locations, and the courts have recognized that the government has a substantial interest in promoting the safety of people who visit these outdoor areas, and recreation areas and these community centers,” he said.

Supervisor Liz Palmer said she was supportive of allowing an exemption for concealed handgun permit holders in rural parks, but other supervisors were not supportive.

Supervisor Diantha McKeel said carving out different rules for different parks based on their location is “confusing and problematic.”

“If we don’t have this ordinance, our Albemarle County Police Department lacks standing to be able to respond to a concern call from one of our employees, or someone that’s in our buildings or one of our community centers, so we need the ordinance for that purpose,” she said. “Also, it solves the problem of a lack of parity between people that are coming into our building and our employees, and for me that’s important. HR policy says that our employees are not to bring guns into the building.”

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said intimidation has been a problem.

“I have been told by many, many people that [weapons raise] all sorts of memories, experiences. People just don’t need that kind of stress, no matter where they are on county property,” she said.

Steve Harvey, the White Hall District Republican challenger who lost to Mallek in 2019, organized a second rally outside of the McIntire Road County Office Building against the proposed ordinance, similar to the one he had in July.

Harvey said if the board passed the ordinance, community members would start the recall process for board members.

“Follow your oath of office, deny [the ordinance], protect the Constitution that we elected you to protect, and everything will be fine,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re spending the next year getting valid petitions, getting signatures, going in front of the press talking about how you hate America and the Constitution, because you do.”

During public comment, April Holmes, a member of the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention, said she supports the ordinance.

“Why would a person need a gun while obtaining a dog license, kayaking at Chris Greene Lake, meeting with a social worker or attending a Board of Supervisors meeting?” she said. “As I’m sure you all know, citizens don’t agree on every issue — some issues can be sensitive and controversial and feelings can run high at public meetings. While the ability to express one’s opinion is essential to a healthy democracy, it makes no sense to add a lethal weapon to a combustible mixture that can result from heated debate.”

Many who have spoken out against the ordinance have questioned its necessity and how much it will cost to enforce.

“How will this ordinance prevent intentional gun violence?” county resident Johnathan McMahon asked. “It cannot. No criminal will respect a gun ban. What a crackpot idea. It’s so out of touch with reality.”

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