Wise County sheriff-elect backs Second Amendment sanctuary effort

Mike Still • Nov 26, 2019 at 11:30 AM

 WISE — A push for making Wise County a gun rights sanctuary has a new ally — the incoming sheriff.

Sheriff-elect Grant Kilgore joined current Sheriff R.D. Oakes Friday in a post on the department’s official Facebook page

“Sheriff Ronnie Oakes and Sheriff-Elect E. Grant Kilgore fully support the law-abiding citizens of Wise County and the City of Norton in regards to their rights granted to them by the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.” the post said. “We fully support the Wise County Board of Supervisors as they consider a resolution making Wise County a Second Amendment Sanctuary County.”

Kilgore’s announcement follows a call by Wise resident Clarence “Rusty” Peters Jr. at the Nov. 14 Board of Supervisors meeting for the board to pass a sanctuary resolution. District 3 Supervisor J.H. Rivers said at that meeting he supported such a resolution and asked board members to consider it.

As of Nov. 23, according to the Washington Post, nine Virginia counties — Charlotte, Campbell, Carroll, Appomattox, Patrick, Dinwiddie, Pittsylvania, Lee and Giles — have passed the resolutions.

Heather Evans, a political science professor at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, said Monday that the recent round of sanctuary laws faces a 150-year-old obstacle — the Dillon rule established by a Missouri Supreme Court justice after the Civil War and adopted by Virginia and other states.

“The Dillon rule doesn't allow communities to have the power to not enforce state law,” Evans said. “Essentially, communities can pass whatever they like saying that they refuse to follow state law, but that would never stand up in court. Communities don't have that power.”

“I have heard a lot about it,” Kilgore said on Monday when asked about public response to his post. “It’s all been positive. It’s more symbolic and about sending a message to Richmond that responsible gun owners should be able to own firearms without having their Second Amendment rights infringed.”

Peters on Nov. 14 cited a package of gun control measures supported by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and rejected in a special General Assembly session this summer. The package would have expanded background checks to all gun sales and purchases, expanded legal gun seizures in cases of protective orders and persons deemed dangerous, bans on assault weapons and certain equipment.

While a Republican-controlled legislature rejected the Northam proposals, a Democratic-controlled state House and Senate is expected to look at gun-control legislation in the 2020 session.

Kilgore said some of Northam’s proposals were good in principle but posed problems in implementation because they would affect responsible gun owners. He said that Northam’s proposal to ban firearm possession by dangerous individuals was all right in theory but had “so many what-ifs.”

A gun owner could be targeted by a “vindictive spouse” in an extreme case, Kilgore said, and that sort of situation is not addressed in the Northam proposal.

Northam’s call for localities to be able to enact stricter laws than the state has for regulating firearms also calls for care in the details, Kilgore said, adding that he supports regulating gun possession in government buildings and some public events.

Kilgore said he also supported responsible gun owners being able to purchase handguns without government-set limits despite a one-handgun-a-month limit that was state law for almost two decades under Democratic and Republican governors before its lapse.

As for background checks before any firearm purchase, Kilgore said he supports background checks as they now stand.

“I think background checks are necessary, and the standard check is OK,” Kilgore said. “People in good standing with the law should be able to buy a firearm, and I don’t think it’s a problem.”

Northam had called for a ban on the sale of “assault weapons,” and Kilgore said he opposed that.

“In the hands of law-abiding citizens, I have no problem with them owning those types of weapons,” Kilgore said.

The Northam package also proposed tightening children’s access to loaded, unsecured firearms and expanding the definition of a child from age 14 to 18. Kilgore cited his own experience teaching three sons to shoot and handle firearms safely, saying that any responsible gun owner would not allow a minor to misuse a weapon.

Another Northam proposal — mandating reporting of stolen weapons within 24 hours of theft — should be re-evaluated because some cases may involve a gun owner discovering a theft days or weeks after it happened.

“I think any responsible gun owner wants to report a theft as soon as possible,” Kilgore said. “It’s something that should be looked at on a case-by-case basis.”

Peters in his Nov. 14 presentation claimed that a sanctuary resolution would “relieve our sheriffs and police departments from liability if they refuse to enforce some of these, what I think, are unconstitutional acts.”

Kilgore said the Wise County Sheriff’s Department would enforce existing state gun laws.

“We don’t get to pick and choose which laws to enforce, even if we don’t always agree with them,” Kilgore said.

As of Monday, according to staff in the Wise County Administrator’s office, no supervisors have requested a sanctuary resolution discussion to be placed on the Board of Supervisors’ Dec. 12 regular meeting agenda.