The Prince William Board of County Supervisors delayed voting Tuesday on a resolution to recommend state lawmakers pass new gun laws and boost funding for mental health treatment and firearm safety training after a nearly five-hour meeting that at times was chaotic.
It was the first meeting of the new, Democratic-majority county board. The board voted unanimously to delay the measure after nearly 150 spoke against it.
The board will take up the resolution on Tuesday, Jan. 21, during the 7:30 p.m. evening session to give supervisors and citizens more time to assess the proposal.
The resolution, introduced by newly elected at-large Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At Large, urges the Virginia General Assembly to:
- Pass the proposed “red-flag” law, which would allow a judge to temporarily limit access to firearms by individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others “while preserving due process;”
- Eliminate potential background check loopholes by requiring background checks for all gun purchases through a federal firearms license;
- Support laws limiting children’s access to firearms to reduce adolescent suicides and accidental adolescent shootings;
- Provide additional state funding for firearms safety education;
- Waive sales tax on gun safes and gun safety locks to promote safe gun handling practices; and
- Strengthen penalties for adults who allow unsafe access to guns to children.
Six people spoke in favor of the resolution, but they were far outnumbered by opponents. Many gun rights supporters asked the board not to include extreme risk protective orders, also known as “red flag,” laws, and universal background checks in the resolution.
Prince William County resident Brent Simpson said more money should be spent on mental health programs instead of implementing new gun laws that might restrict gun ownership in Virginia.
“It’s not the gun. It’s the person behind the gun. We’re focusing on the wrong thing here,” Simpson said.
Several other county residents took issue with the timing and short notice given before the vote. The resolution was posted last Friday, Jan. 3. Wheeler said she had hoped to vote on the measure before the start of the General Assembly session, which begins today, Wednesday, Jan. 8.
“Our legislature starts next week. This is adding to our legislative agenda. It needs to get on,” Wheeler said. “I called supervisors and let them know I was putting it on, and then it went out of dispatch last Friday. I know people are aware of it.”
Several speakers were also upset the hearing was scheduled for 2 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m., making it difficult for many residents to attend the meeting.
“You’re squelching public input,” said Brentsville District resident Tammy Spinks. “What’s the harm in waiting one more week?”
County attorney Michelle Robl, speaking during the meeting, said no 7:30 p.m. meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 7 because supervisors had scheduled active shooter and meeting security training at that time. That event was scheduled in November by the previous board, Robl said.
Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, said he was dismayed that Wheeler had scheduled the vote for the 2 p.m. meeting instead of an evening meeting.
“Most folks are at work. It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon and to expect that on an issue that is this controversial and personal … troubles me greatly,” Candland said.
Many citizens were under the impression that Wheeler’s new resolution would reverse the “constitutional county,” resolution passed by the previous board in December and asked the new board not to overturn the resolution.
Democratic supervisors said they plan to leave the “constitutional county” resolution in place, however.
“That ‘constitutional county’ status is not up for debate. We’re not changing that. I just want to be really clear on that,” said Supervisor Victor Angry, D-Neabsco.
Wheeler said as early as Saturday that she had no intention of reversing the “constitutional county” resolution.
Virginia Citizens Defense League, a Virginia gun-rights organization, posted an “action item” ahead of Tuesday’s meeting calling on Prince William gun rights supports to attend the meeting. The statement falsely claimed that the new board was planning a vote to “repeal Prince William County’s sanctuary status.”
Many residents who spoke during the public hearing Tuesday said they had come to the meeting to oppose the repeal the previous board’s “constitutional county” resolution.
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