Debates on gun control, offshore drilling come home

Published 12:29 pm Saturday, February 17, 2018

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Charles Green’s remarks and include the number of federal firearm purchase denials recorded in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System for 2017.

Two national debates came home on Thursday evening during the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The first concerned the county’s readiness to handle a mass school shooting like the one that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. According to The New York Times, a gunman, whom police have identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, used a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle to kill 17 people at the school, 14 of whom were students.

“Are we ready to handle a situation like that here?” asked Charles Green of Carrsville during citizens’ time. “I know when they built the new school in Windsor [Georgie D. Tyler Middle School], they talked about putting electric locks on the doors. We talked about putting restrooms in the back of the classrooms so they [students] did not have to leave the classroom and go down the hall, and they cost money, but you can’t replace the children.”

Green, a retired law enforcement officer, also expressed the need for expanding background checks to include screening for mental illnesses.

“Mental illness is not part of the background check when you buy a gun, and it should be,” he said, claiming “over 80,000 people” failed a firearms background check in 2017.

According to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System there were 103,985 federal denials for gun purchases nationwide from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2017.

“The state prosecuted 12 people for lying on their background checks,” Green said. “ATF [the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] says they don’t have the manpower. Something’s got to be done. I wish I had an answer.”

Ed Easter of Carrollton said he had an answer.

“We get rid of these bloody machine guns, we get rid of these politicians in Washington D.C.,” he said. “We just lost 17 people, can anybody in this room tell me the second amendment is more valuable than those kids? If he can, I wish he would leave this county.

“Connecticut has instituted laws that has reduced the [gun] crime rate after Sandy Hook, Im asking this board tonight to ask the governor of this state to get passed the exact same laws that Connecticut passed.

“If we can get rid of this gun mania, we won’t have to put our children in a day prison every day they go to school. Nobody needs to be carrying a gun around that has a firing power of 600 rounds a minute, the only way we’re going to stop it is if we say ‘that’s enough boys, take your ARs and go somewhere else, we don’t want you here.’ If that isn’t simple enough, we need to start tracking each and every one of them carrying an AR around.”

In response to the news from Florida and the comments made at the supervisors’ meeting, Isle of Wight County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton sent a letter to parents on Friday advising them of what security measures were in place to protect students during the day.

“Our high schools and middle schools are assigned School Resource Officers through the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Department,” Thornton said in his letter. “These officers are official deputies in the Sheriff’s department who report to a school on a daily basis. Arrangements are in place with local law enforcement agencies to have officers check on our elementary schools every day as well. All of our schools are equipped with security door access, where visitors have to be identified and buzzed in to gain entry to the building. Every school is outfitted with security cameras that can be viewed remotely by the Sheriff’s department.

“We conduct lock-down drills several times a year, with the most recent one occurring last month. Students practice for situations involving an active threat in their school. Lock-down drills are part of a Crisis Management Plan that is in place at every school in the division. In addition, there is a secure tip line for anonymous messages when there are concerns.”

The other national debate to come home that evening  concerned offshore oil and gas drilling. County Administrator Randy Keaton presented the board with a request by the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance for Tidewater localities to pass resolutions in support of  the Alliance’s opposition to the Trump Administration’s plans to allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all U.S. coastal waters.

On Jan. 29, HRMFFA Board Chairman Thomas G. Sheppard Jr. sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging for Virginia to be excluded from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s next iteration of its Five Year Oil and Gas Leasing Program, on the grounds that it would jeopardize the military’s ability to conduct operations and training off the coast.

“Today, the 13 communities that formed HRMFFA collectively support 18 major military installations, including two joint bases, all four branches of the military services and the Cost Guard, approximately 120,000 active duty, reserve and civilian personnel, over 125,000 military dependents, and over 230,000 veterans,” Sheppard wrote. “The military presence is an integral part of the Hampton Roads economy, accounting for over 37 percent of the gross regional product of $103.2 billion. Military personnel, DoD civilians and contractors account for nearly 20 percent of all employment in the region, with another 15 percent indirectly attributed to the military’s presence.

“Naval Station Norfolk is the largest naval base in the world and is the homeport of 58 ships and 18 aircraft squadrons. There are another seven ships homeported at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story and 19 aircraft squadrons at Naval Air Station Oceana. Langley Air Force Base is host to the 1st Fighter Wing and its two F-22 aircraft squadrons. These ships and aircraft rely extensively on the surface and airspace ranges off Virginia’s coast for readiness training and weapons testing activities.”

Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors heeded the Alliance’s request, voting 4-1 to pass the desired resolution. The dissenting vote came from Smithfield District supervisor Dick Grice.

The board concluded by voting to reschedule its Thursday, March 15 meeting to Wednesday, March 14, citing board members’ schedule conflicts as the reason.