Less than a month after the Democratic takeover of the Virginia state legislature, nearly half the state’s counties have passed resolutions in support of Second Amendment rights.
This week, Surrey and Craig counties declared themselves “Second Amendment” sanctuaries, joining the more than 40 counties across the state that have passed such resolutions in recent weeks. The resolutions are not legally binding, but rather are declarations of support by county officials for local citizens to exercise their right to carry weapons.
The moves come as Democrats prepare to push forward gun reform legislation in 2020.
“The counties and gun groups are asking the jurisdictions and the commonwealth to support gun rights and their Second Amendment to make sure they [the state legislature] aren’t going to do anything to take that away,” Jonathan Lynn, county administrator and clerk of the Board of Surrey County, told CNN.
“We as the county of Surrey we want to make sure we support the fundamental right of citizens,” Lynn added.
According to Lynn, gun rights groups and local residents alike have been in a rush to push for the public stance in the last month, including the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a statewide organization that is dedicated to advancing Virginians’ right to keep and bear arms, due to the insurgence of Democrats who ran on strict gun control platforms last month.
“These are people [gun owners] that were sleeping during the elections. That’s the problem with a lot of gun owners, they tend to get complacent and think, “oh okay, nothing bad is going to happen,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of VCDL. “They were sleeping and the elections then kind of eked out a margin for the democrats and they came on saying, “we want gun control”, “this is all about gun control.”
“They woke up a sleeping giant, and they know it now. They’ve grabbed a tiger by the tail,” Cleave added.
Virginia’s push is one of many states in recent months to symbolically protect the rights of citizens to bear arms.
The movement to proclaim counties and cities sanctuaries originated in Illinois in March of this year, followed by Colorado the same month, California in August and Florida in November. With municipalities saying that they won’t enforce state laws that infringe on residents’ right to bear arms.
In Virginia, Democrats will take full control of the state’s government in January, after winning majorities in the House and Senate in the November elections. Everytown For Gun Safety, a gun-control group aligned with billionaire and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, played an outsized influence on the victory. The group spent $2.5 million in the state getting two Senate seats and one House seat flipped from Republican to Democrat in the November primaries.
The investments saw Democrats take full control of the state’s executive and legislative branches for the first time in more than 20 years. With the governor’s office already in Democratic hands, officials are expected to push a progressive agenda, including limiting gun access,come 2020.
The priority was on display last month when state Del. Kenneth Plum, a Democrat from Fairfax, filed a bill to institute universal background checks. The legislation will be considered during the 2020 session. The new bill will make it so anyone who purchases a gun will be checked, as first reported by the Washington Post. Currently, Virginia runs background checks on purchasers who buy from a dealer.
Other legislation introduced in November include a bill from Democratic Del. Richard Saslaw that would prohibit the sale, transport, possession, transfer and manufacturing of an assault firearm. The state will also look to mark June 1 as “National Gun Violence Awareness Day in Virginia” — the day after the 2019 Virginia Beach mass shooting that killed 12 people.
“With the outcome of the election, the fear arose that we finally are going to pass common sense gun violence bills. This is reactionary from the other side,” Plum told CNN. “They came up with the sanctuary city idea … but its impact is unknown.”
“It’s unclear what the sanctuary part actually is,” added Plum, who expects the his universal background bill to pass come 2020.
Lynn noted that the resolutions do not trump state law and that it’s just an initial step ahead of next year’s session.
“No one knows the answer to that, but nothing has been passed – as a county administrator, I don’t know how to tell the state that we aren’t going to enforce your [their] laws,” added Lynn.
Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect Virginia's background check law and the date of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach.
CNN’s Fredreka Schouten contributed to this story.