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Albemarle looks to ban firearms on county-owned property
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Albemarle looks to ban firearms on county-owned property

Guns could be banned on Albemarle County-owned property starting this coming week.

The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on a proposed ordinance prohibiting firearms from buildings, parks and community centers owned or used by Albemarle for governmental purposes.

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 was 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.

Authorities or other entities controlled by Albemarle for governmental purposes also are covered by the proposed ordinance. County staff did not respond by press time to questions about which other entities would be covered.

The proposed ordinance also allows the county executive to “approve and order implemented lawful security measures reasonably designed to prevent unauthorized access of the buildings and areas.”

If the proposed ordinance is adopted, notice has to be posted at all entrances of buildings and park and recreation and community center facilities.

Violation of the proposed ordinance, if adopted, would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to a year in jail and/or a fine as high as $2,500.

The board at its June 16 meeting approved setting a public hearing for the proposed firearms ordinance.

During public comment at that and subsequent board meetings, some community members have spoken out against or questioned the proposed ordinance.

Jonathan McMahon, a county resident, asked if the proposal was to address a specific problem.

“I’m not aware of any issues with firearms at county parks or county facilities, at least haven’t seen anything in the news,” he said. “I’m at county parks a lot and I’ve never noticed anything that’s made me feel unsafe.”

He said he thinks the proposed ordinance will only prevent law-abiding gun owners from carrying firearms in these locations.

“The people who are not law abiding will not care about the fact that there’s a minor penalty or a misdemeanor associated with it and they will not respect the signs banning firearms,” he said.

Earlysville resident Gary Grant questioned the cost of any gates, metal detectors, security personnel and “gunmetal and gunpowder sniffing dogs” to enforce the proposed ordinance.

“Finally, board, what brand of soap will you six Democrat supervisors use to try to wash the blood off your feel-good, politically correct hands when the first person is killed in or on any of your sign-posted, anti-Second Amendment gun and ammunition-free zoned, Albemarle County-owned fortress properties?” he asked.

The staff report for the proposed ordinance says the cost of the signs to provide the required notice could be covered with currently appropriated funds, and there is no anticipated additional budget impact.

Charlottesville’s City Council adopted an ordinance to prohibit guns in city facilities last year, and other localities have adopted similar ordinances since the state law changed.

Winchester is being sued for its ordinance by city residents, local businesses and organizations such as the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

“Once we have a date for the hearing, we need to flood the [Albemarle] Board of Supervisors with calls and we need gun owners to show up at the meeting to speak against the ordinance,” the VCDL said in a post on its website.

The VCDL noted that it’s suing Winchester and said that “more suits will surely follow.”

A number of people and positions would be exempt, including law enforcement officers; unsworn animal protection officers; the fire marshal, deputies and assistants; individuals granted an exception by the county executive; retired law enforcement officers authorized by state code; and people who surrender or submit for safekeeping firearms to the Albemarle County Police Department at the Fifth Street County Office Building only.

Others would be exempt while acting within the scope of their duties, including the commonwealth’s attorney, deputy and assistants; authorized employees of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail; civilian employees of the county police department who are assigned to the forensics unit; active members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Virginia National Guard; security officers licensed and certified by the Department of Criminal Justice Services; and those authorized to carry a firearm while in a county courthouse as allowed by state code.

Albemarle is still holding virtual meetings, which can be accessed via the county’s website, albemarle.org, and Zoom.

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