All five council members voted aye on the two-page resolution submitted by council member Laura Taylor-Baugh to the applause of 18 town, Wise County and Norton residents.
Council member Billy Bartlett Jr. took his seat just before the meeting started, wearing a low-slung webbing holster with a semi-automatic pistol.
Taylor-Baugh, in comments before the council vote, said she advocated the sanctuary resolution in part because of a 2016 incident where her father was stabbed while in his driveway.
“He took his pistol out of his pocket because he was getting a flu shot, and he couldn’t bring it in the doctor’s office,” Taylor-Baugh said. “A criminal will always find a way.”
Taylor-Baugh earlier said she has joined the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which has advocated sanctuary resolutions across the state, and that she opposed all gun control legislation filed as part of a package from Democratic legislators for the 2020 General Assembly session.
Wise County resident Clarence Peters, who in October brought up the sanctuary issue to the county Board of Supervisors before that body approved a resolution in December, said the council resolution was “a bold move you’re making.”
“This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue,” Peters said, pointing to the approval of resolutions across most of Virginia. “It’s not a race issue.”
Calling the sanctuary movement a matter of safety, Peters said the proposed gun control legislation would make Southwest Virginia less safe by making gun owners subject to felony charges for doing what is now legal.
“How are we going to promote tourism and “Virginia is for Lovers” if it’s not safe?” Peters said.
Peters said Second Amendment sanctuary supporters will meet Friday at 7 p.m. at the former Appalachia High School in preparation for a bus trip to Richmond on Jan. 20. He said the group will contact legislators during the traditional lobbying day.
Former Wise police officer Aaron Cathel also criticized a proposed bill to limit gun magazine capacity.
“A ten-round magazine limit prevents me from defending my family,” Cathel said as he held up an empty 30-round rifle magazine.
Norton Vice Mayor Mark Caruso, saying he was not at the meeting in his capacity as a city official, asked the council to follow Norton’s example by passing its own resolution.
“I trust Wise will stand in solidarity with Wise County and Norton,” Caruso said. “Tonight, I hope you will tell the governor you’re drawing a line in the sand.”
Wise County Supervisor Bob Adkins, whose wife, Teresa, is Wise’s vice mayor, referred to the Dec. 28 shooting in a White Settlement, Texas, church in which a parishioner fatally shot the gunman after two parishioners were killed.
“I also carry a weapon when I go to church,” Adkins said. “As the old commercial says, I never leave home without it. I told my wife I’m going to choose a different weapon to carry because I’m afraid what I have isn’t heavy enough.”
Retired Wise town employee James Shortt said he would support proposed gun legislation if he thought it would do something to curb gun violence.
“The criminal is not going to turn in his weapons,” Shortt said.
“It’s a shame we can be in the commonwealth of Virginia and our governor hasn’t given us a single thing,” Council member Bartlett said. “I hate to think I’d have to raise up and bear arms against the state.”
Vice Mayor Adkins said that while she and the council uphold the Virginia constitution, “I’m like (Bartlett), I didn’t think we’d see our rights chipped away.”
Mayor Jeff Dotson, a retired police officer, said he knew that law enforcement could not always be immediately available.
“We need some control, but this is an extreme measure,” Dotson said of proposed legislation. “I could tell you of 25, 30 people who would be felons if these laws went into effect. We need to focus on mental health.”