Gun control activist Josh Horwitz with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is out with an editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch warning Virginians about the “dangerous rhetoric” coming from Second Amendment sanctuaries across the state. It’s the latest attempt to demonize gun owners and Second Amendment supporters who’ve been showing up by the hundreds and thousands to their local county supervisors and city council meetings urging local lawmakers to take a stand in support of their right to keep and bear arms.
Horwitz paints a picture of “heavily armed anarchy” enveloping the state, as opposed to the peaceful public assemblies that have actually taken place.
Those jurisdictions that support the concept of Second Amendment sanctuaries have publicly stated that they will not enforce or abide by state laws — in this case, gun violence prevention laws — that they, not a court, consider unconstitutional. In essence, they will not follow or respect the rule of law. They will not comply with democratic norms. They are ready to dismiss elections entirely and rely instead on mob rule, intimidation and heavily armed anarchy.
The rhetoric surrounding Second Amendment sanctuaries is morphing in a disturbing way. It is becoming more radical and dangerous for the citizens of Virginia. There are now localities discussing deputizing members of their citizenry to rise up against the state government. Anti-government rhetoric is being spread on gun message boards and blogs about the impending armed uprising against gun violence prevention champion Gov. Ralph Northam, House and Senate leadership, and the new Democratic majorities.
Should be be shocked by “anti-government rhetoric” in the wake of state government officials talking about making it illegal to possess the most commonly sold rifles and magazines in the country? Should we be surprised that some gun owners don’t take kindly to Democrats like Rep. Donald McEachin urging Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to use the National Guard to enforce gun confiscation?
No, any more than we should be suprised that Hortwitz doesn’t even acknowledge McEachin’s comments. In his narrative, Virginia’s gun owners are simply going off half-cocked in response to “reasonable safety measures.”
The movement for gun violence prevention is a social movement. We strive to incorporate the principles of social justice, racial equity and the freedom for all Virginians to live their lives without the constant worry of being shot in neighborhoods, by an abuser, in a municipal building, a college classroom or any other everyday place.
Unfortunately, Virginia has an ugly history of dragging its feet in the fight for a more perfect union, whether by becoming the capital of the failed rebellion state, opposing desegregation in education well after the decision in Brown v. Board of Education or refusing to repeal the criminalization of interracial marriage until forced to do so by the Supreme Court in 1967.
Now we see something similar happening with gun violence prevention. Virginians voted for something different. They voted for change. They voted for gun violence prevention. But the gun extremists — who have managed to keep their “guns everywhere” policy agenda alive for far too long because of gerrymandered districts — simply cannot accept that reality and now threaten a democratically elected governor and legislature through force of arms.
Horwitz gets his history backwards here, because he desperately wants to portray the gun control movement as on the right side of history. It’s not. It’s actually Horwitz and his co-horts who are akin to the segregationists who sought to use the levers of state government to deprive individuals of their civil rights.
Far from a social movement that embraces the principles of social justice and racial equality, the gun control movement in Virginia is demanding that rights be restricted, and that more non-violent, possessory felonies be placed on the books. In fact, if the criminal justice system has a disproportionate impact on young men of color, as Virginia’s Attorney General has argued, it’s likely that the single biggest impact any new gun control laws will have in Virginia will be on the number of young black men sent to prison.
Even some supporters of gun control have come to reluctantly view the modern gun control movement as “replacing the War on Drugs with a War on Guns”, noting that in New York, for example, the vast majority of prosecutions under the state’s SAFE Act are for non-violent possessory offenses, and the vast majority of defendants are young black men without any serious criminal history.
Even if not a single county in the state had declared itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary, we would expect most of the arrests and prosecutions for violations of Northam’s proposed gun control laws to happen in high crime areas of urban centers like Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach. We’ve already seen data indicating a significant racial disparity in how the state’s drug laws are being enforced, with black Virginians three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Virginians.
John Gettman, a criminal justice professor at Shenandoah University who looked at the disparity in drug arrests, told WTVR back in 2017 that the increased number of arrests for black Virginians had to do with “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“It’s not necessarily that the minority group of blacks are targeted for increased arrests but that the areas where they live have a lot more police patrols and a lot more police activity,” Gettman said. “I think it may have a lot to do with where police patrols are more frequent and where policing is more aggressive – and that may very well be because there’s more crime in particular regions.”
Why should arrests for non-violent, possessory offenses with firearms be any different than non-violent, possessory offenses for marijuana, especially if the reason for the disparity is a greater police presence in high-crime neighborhoods? Northam’s proposed gun control laws don’t target violent, repeat offenders who are actually driving the violence, but they’re almost certain to ensnare good people in bad neighborhoods who are just trying to protect themselves.
Have I seen memes online that have made me roll my eyes, or tough talk from anonymous accounts on the Internet who seem to be eagerly anticipating the breakout of the Boogaloo? Of course. Then again, I see lots of stuff online that doesn’t resemble the physical world, and at virtually every Second Amendment Sanctuary meeting I’ve attended, the crowds have been full of average Virginians who are peaceably taking a stand in defense of their rights. The Second Amendment Sanctuary movement isn’t defined by what anonymous individuals are saying on Twitter, but what neighbors are saying at county supervisors meetings.
Josh Horwitz wants Virginians to be scared of their neighbors. I want Virginians to be wary of their government, and any other that promises safety at the expense of personal liberty and individual freedom. I’m not just fighting for the rights of rural Virginians to keep and bear arms, but for the rights of all law-abiding Virginians. There is a real civil rights struggle taking place in Virginia, and I’m proud to be on the side that’s fighting to keep people out of prison for engaging in the free exercise of their constitutionally protected civil rights.