Technically, the half-dozen gun control laws signed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam don’t take effect until July 1st, but city council members in Alexandria, Virginia aren’t waiting for them to kick in before passing some local restrictions of their own. Empowered by a new law that allows cities to ban guns in government buildings and public spaces, politicians in the D.C. suburb unanimously approved those restrictions during a Saturday session that featured speakers both pro and con weighing in.
A number of people spoke in support and opposition to the ordinance in virtual testimony to City Council. Those opposed cited concerns such as Second Amendment rights, personal safety, and police enforcement on minority populations. A few people brought up the 2017 shooting at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park, which injured Rep. Steve Scalise and others. Those who supported the ordinance cited their own safety concerns about guns. Among the speakers was Del. Mark Levine, who spoke about the gun-wielding man who showed up outside Levine’s Alexandria home in opposition to gun control legislation.
The new ordinance in Alexandria wouldn’t have stopped the armed protester from his lone protest outside of Del. Levine’s home, but it will make it illegal to carry a firearm in any city park. I sincerely doubt that such a ban will prevent any criminal acts of violence like the shooting of Republican congressman, as happened back in 2017. Instead, it will be legal gun owners who will either be disarmed or risk jail time if they choose to violate the law and carry for self-defense in parks, City Hall, libraries, or community centers.
The Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine up to $2,500. Exceptions are provided to military personnel acting in the scope of their duties, sworn law enforcement officers, private security personnel hired by the city, Senior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs at higher education institutions, intercollegiate athletics program involving firearms at higher education institutions, and historical re-enactors using unloaded guns for demonstrations.
Alexandria may be the first in the city to pass this local ordinance, but other Democrat-controlled localities will soon be following suit. In the next few weeks, expect similar measures to be introduced and approved in Arlington, Fairfax County (as well as Fairfax City), the city of Falls Church, and Loudon County in northern Virginia. College towns like Charlottesville and Blacksburg will also likely adopt similar language, as will the Richmond and Roanoke city councils.
Many of the same politicians pushing these new local gun control measures are also pushing for dramatic changes to policing, which begs the question: if they’re so concerned about over-policing, why are they so eager to put new laws on the books that will be enforced by armed agents of the State? Over the weekend, Mayor Levar Stoney in Richmond called for a new path for policing in the city, but he’s still trodding down the same worn-out road of criminalizing the right to keep and bear arms that he and other Democrats have been following for decades.
One of the clearest ways we can reimagine public safety is by ending the use of police as a response to noncriminal activity, such as homelessness or “suspicious behavior.” This would not only limit unnecessary interactions between the police and the community, but it also creates a more appropriate role and workload for officers. We can do this by diverting nonviolent calls for service away from the police and to other community-based or city services.
My administration is committed to this work — but we cannot do it alone. That is why I have created a Task Force on Reimagining Public Safety. This task force will bring together upward of 20 individuals from the activist, legal, academia, RPD, mental and behavioral health, and other communities to agree on a set of actionable steps forward within 90 days of the first meeting.
The mission: to make public safety recommendations that build toward equity and justice. Using a restorative justice framework, we can reimagine public safety to create a truly safer city for all — meaning both the members of the community and the officers who serve the community. We all will benefit from reimagining public safety.
Memo to Mayor Stoney and other Virginia politicians: if you really want to “reimagine public safety,” then start by imagining a law enforcement agency that isn’t empowered to throw people in jail for simply carrying their legally owned gun in a public park or government building. As it stands, local ordinances like the one approved in Alexandria, Virginia this weekend won’t do anything to increase public safety, but they will aid the continued erosion in trust between the People and the people in charge.