Despite the media’s fearmongering, the Virginia Citizens Defense League Lobby Day 2020, which took place on January 20, turned out to be a normal event.
The pro-gun demonstration drew twenty-two thousand people, who peacefully protested several gun control measures that Virginia governor Ralph Northam was proposing for the 2020 session of the Virginia General Assembly. The conclusion of this rally now has Virginia gun owners pondering where to go from there. The path to bringing about pro-gun policy at the state level appears to be at a dead end, at least in the short term, after Democrats secured control over all branches of government in the 2019 general elections.
Although there was tremendous euphoria right after Lobby Day concluded, Virginia Democrats did not waste time in showcasing their newly held political power, quickly passing a red flag gun-confiscation bill. Red flag laws are in vogue with gun control boosters, and Virginia is looking to be the eighteenth state that will implement it. In all likelihood, gun owners will have a rough time during the 2020 session of the Virginia General Assembly based on this political reality. There are tons of doomsday predictions of a demographic shift taking place in Virginia and the possibility that Republicans may never be able to take control of all branches of the state government again.
Virginia Could be Sailing in Uncharted Waters
Nonetheless, the highly publicized Second Amendment “sanctuary” movement has created a new set of opportunities for gun owners in Virginia to exploit. Recent developments indicate that gun politics could create a political realignment in Virginia.
First off, the president of Liberty University Jerry Falwell Jr. boldly called for Virginians to exercise civil disobedience in the case that the Virginia state government passes gun control this year. Falwell took it a step further, even suggesting that the limits of the District of Columbia be extended to include the entire DC metro region, which has effectively sprawled out into northern Virginia. “That’s what the founders intended, was for the federal district to be separate from any state because they have a conflict of interest and they never anticipated it would sprawl out as far as it has,” Falwell argued.
A similar jurisdictional shake-up could possibly take place, thanks to several West Virginia house delegates putting a resolution forward, HCR 8, which would allow Virginia sanctuary counties to join the state. These delegates believe that Virginia sanctuary counties' rights would be better protected under West Virginia’s jurisdiction. West Virginia governor Jim Justice is also on record as being in support of these counties joining his state: “If you’re not truly happy where you are,” Justice said, “we stand with open arms to take you from Virginia.” The lawmakers do raise a good point about West Virginia’s pro-gun environment.
In 2016, West Virginia became a constitutional carry state—where law-abiding citizens are allowed to carry a firearm without having to obtain a permit. This, along with other pro-gun policies it has implemented during the last few years, has allowed West Virginia to build a solid reputation as a gun-friendly state. In 2019, Guns and Ammo ranked West Virginia the fifteenth best state for gun owners, whereas Virginia occupied a mediocre thirty-first place—a ranking that will likely fall steeply if anti-gun Democrats have their way during the 2020 session of the Virginia General Assembly.
But it doesn’t have to end this way.
Are Sanctuary Counties the Way to Go?
Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center brought up some valid concerns about how so-called Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions employ a misleading term given that they don’t have legal force behind them. On the other hand, sanctuary cities dealing with immigration enforcement—where local law enforcement does not cooperate with federal immigration enforcers—involve a more decisive political action that is not symbolic in nature. We may need to cut the Second Amendment movement some slack, however. This is relatively new territory for Second Amendment proponents, who have traditionally operated under the premise that federal lobbying or petitioning of the courts will save them. There will be learning curves through this process, but gun owners will have to start somewhere.
Even politicians at the federal level, such as Kentucky senator Rand Paul and Congressman Thomas Massie, are throwing their support behind Second Amendment sanctuaries. They recognize that there is only so much they can do politically in DC. Should any type of roll call vote come up on pro-gun legislation, they would almost assuredly be in the minority. That’s the political reality on Capitol Hill, and gradually more and more constitutionalists are starting to recognize where the winds are blowing. Hence their forays into more local and state-level forms of activism.
Second Amendment Activists Would Be Wise Not to Fall for the Federal Court Trap
Based on personal experience working within the gun lobby, I have noticed a tendency among activists to think that conventional methods of politics will bring constitutionalism back to America. Many envision repealing numerous infringements at the federal level, such as the National Firearms Act of 1934, as a first step in reversing decades of government overreach. Although well intentioned, this kind of mindset is outdated and ignores how detached both political parties at the federal level have become from upholding traditional American civil liberties. Further, it disregards how unreliable the Supreme Court has been, both in upholding Second Amendment rights and striking down unconstitutional measures that have been established through federal law or bureaucratic mandates.
Sure, DC v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago expanded the Second Amendment to state and local policy. The result was an expansion of legal protections for gun owners, for now. But it would behoove us to look at the bigger picture. The same federal courts that might “restore” positive freedoms on occasion are just as capable of reverting to their managerial tendencies by legislating from the bench and nullifying gun rights. These court cases make for great fundraising opportunities and public relations stunts, showing how a gun organization is sticking it to the gun control crowd, but they don’t do much to curb state growth. Litigation consumes time, talent, and treasure that could otherwise be allocated to more grassroots activities such as full-fledged nullification measures or even bolder efforts involving plebiscites in which certain jurisdictions break away from their oppressive state governments.
As the days go by, the School House Rock version of politics that Americans have been accustomed to has increasingly become a distant memory, thanks to DC’s thorough embrace of managerial politics. So, no matter who’s in charge, politics is business as usual, which means more government growth at the expense of local jurisdictions and civil society. However, politics is the art of the possible, especially when people appreciate the value of American federalism and all of its implications. The opportunities are endless, provided that people break free from the conventional wisdom they’ve been fed about political action and start acting locally. Gun rights issues could be the catalyst that kicks off a decentralization revolution America desperately needs.