Council prohibits guns on city property

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The state flag of Virginia. Under a new law passed during the Virginia General Assembly's 2020 session, localities are allowed to regulate firearms on public property. (Photo/Missy Schrott)
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By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com

City council unanimously adopted an ordinance that bans firearms on city property at the public hearing held on Saturday.

The ordinance was made possible by a new state law adopted during the Virginia General Assembly’s 2020 session that permits localities to regulate firearms in public spaces. The ordinance and state law will both go into effect on July 1. Alexandria is the first jurisdiction in Virginia to adopt such an ordinance under the new law, according to a city news release.

Specifically, the ordinance prohibits firearms and ammunition in city facilities, parks and areas requiring special event permits, such as festivals and parades. Anyone who violates the ordinance will be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a maximum fine of $2,500 and up to one year in jail.

Several people testified at the public hearing, which was held virtually via Zoom. There were speakers who testified both in support of and in opposition to the ordinance, but the majority were opposed.

Several people expressed frustration that the prohibition applies to those with concealed carry permits. The only exemptions from the ordinance are on-duty military personnel, law enforcement officers, private security personnel hired by the city, museum exhibits and historic re-enactments, senior Reserve Officer Training Corps members and collegiate sports programs.

“I oppose any proposal to ban the concealed carrying of firearms,” resident Jesse Kirk said. “I regularly concealed carry a firearm when I take my children on walks to Alexandria parks, bike paths and streets at all hours. … This provision will only serve to burden Alexandria law enforcement with policing already law-abiding gun owners.”

Self-defense was a common argument from those opposed to the ordinance.

“Women should not be rendered defenseless to stalkers or other criminals simply because they’ve entered a city park or other city-owned property,” resident Katie Pavlich said. “Stalkers, who are often violent former partners or spouses, do not stop their threatening or violent behavior when a public area or park begins and the right to self-defense ends.”

Dr. Veronica Slootsky testified that she got her concealed carry permit after receiving death threats from a patient when she refused to prescribe him a substance he was addicted to. Slootsky now carries a handgun with her for personal protection, she said.

“Why should well trained, law-abiding individuals like myself, who’s passed multiple background checks and references and trained for countless hours to become concealed carriers, be limited in our ability to protect ourselves and others?” Slootsky said.

State Delegate Mark Levine, who was a co-patron of the state bill that grants gun control authority to localities, argued that not all concealed carry permit holders are well trained.

“In Virginia, unfortunately, it is extremely easy to get a concealed carry permit,” Levine said. “Under current law, you can go online and pass a 10-question multiple choice test. … You don’t even need to have handled a gun or know which end a bullet comes out to get a concealed carry permit in Virginia.”

Many of the speakers agreed that openly carrying firearms, especially assault weapons, should be prohibited on city property. In September 2019, a small group carried military rifles through the Old Town Farmers’ Market, alarming several residents and vendors.

“I am against people carrying their guns openly, displaying multiple guns, walking through the farmers’ market or other public areas if the intent is to intimidate, instill fear, or terror into others, because to me, that’s bullying and terrorism,” Len Garren, a resident and farmers’ market vendor, said.

A recurring argument from those who spoke in opposition to the ordinance was that it wouldn’t deter those with the intent of doing harm.

“There’s absolutely no data to hint that it serves a compelling public interest,” resident Adam Grossman said. “As a result, the ordinance essentially serves to benefit criminals who have gained the luxury of knowing that their potential victims are truly defenseless while they’re in public spaces [such] as parks, garages and adjacent streets.”

Resident Courtney Dethomas argued that all guns can cause damage.

“This ‘good guys with a gun’ argument is absurd to me. Guns and bullets kill people no matter whose gun it comes out of,” Dethomas said.

The language in the ordinance pertaining to “adjacent streets” caused some debate among councilors.

The firearm prohibition applies to “any public street, road, alley, or sidewalk or public right-of-way or any other place of whatever nature that is open to the public and is being used by or is adjacent to a permitted event.”

One speaker questioned what this would mean if he was concealed carrying while walking from his house to his street-parked car on a day when his street was adjacent to a permitted event.

Councilor John Chapman said he supported removing the phrase, “or is adjacent to,” in order to eliminate this issue.

Others pointed out that removing the language could create more issues. For example, someone could wield a firearm on the street just outside of a permitted event, such as the weekly Del Ray Farmers’ Market.

Councilor Mo Seifeldein cautioned against getting too caught up in the language, since the ordinance was the product of a new state law and would likely be tweaked in years to come.

“This is a fairly new ordinance and law in the state, so I suspect there will be some more clarification, but we’re not going to be able to do that, staff is not going to be able to do that at this very moment, so I think it may be a waste of resources,” Seifeldein said.

Council ultimately voted unanimously, on a motion by Councilor Del Pepper, to pass the ordinance, maintaining the language pertaining to adjacent streets.

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