Franklin declares itself a ‘Constitutional City’

Published 7:30 pm Tuesday, December 10, 2019

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On Monday, the city of Franklin became one of the latest Virginia localities to adopt an official resolution declaring its opposition to any new gun laws that may be passed when the new Democratic-majority General Assembly convenes in 2020.

Southampton County — which borders Franklin and shares several governmental services with the city, including its sheriff’s office — adopted a similar resolution at its Nov. 25 Board of Supervisors meeting, which proclaimed the county to be a “Second Amendment sanctuary.”

The term refers to local governing bodies that declare their refusal to enforce any new gun laws they consider to be in violation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

According to a Dec. 6 CNN story, nearly half of Virginia’s 95 counties have passed “sanctuary” resolutions in the month following the Nov. 5 state election, when Democrats won control of Virginia’s House of Delegates and state Senate for the first time in more than 20 years. An NPR story published three days following the election quoted Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who is also a Democrat, as stating, “Dealing with the gun violence in Virginia will be a top priority of our administration,” and, “Now certainly with a Democratic Senate and House I believe we can move forward with common sense gun legislation.”

Franklin’s resolution, however, did not use the phrase “second amendment sanctuary,” but rather, proclaimed the locality to be a “Constitutional City.” Nor did it include language, as Southampton’s had, stating that the locality would “oppose, within the limits of the Constitution of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia, any efforts to unconstitutionally restrict such rights, and to use such legal means at its disposal to protect the rights of the citizens of Southampton County to keep and bear arms, including through legal action, the power to appropriate public funds, the right to petition for redress of grievances, and the power to direct the law enforcement and employees of Southampton County to not enforce any unconstitutional law.”

City Manager Amanda Jarratt, when asked why Franklin’s resolution had referred to the city as a “Constitutional City” rather than a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” said, “The City of Franklin wanted to express their support of the Oath of Office taken by each Council member, the U.S. Constitution and the Virginia Constitution. The resolution expresses City Council’s support for and their obligation to protect the Second Amendment [from] any unlawful or illegal law that may impair an individual’s right to bear arms.”

The city manager added that Franklin’s Police Department and all of its officers are likewise sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“Constitutionality of a law is determined by judicial review, not the opinion of the local governing body or the Sheriff,” said Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson, when asked to clarify the intent of Southampton’s resolution. “This is one of the key checks and balances among the three branches of government.”

In fact, Franklin’s resolution specifically states that, “Nothing herein this Resolution is intended to declare any intent or effectuate any act, present or prospective, by the Council or any City officer or employee in contravention of law, including but not limited to Va. Code Ann., § 15.2-915.”

This state code reads, “No locality shall adopt or enforce any ordinance, resolution or motion … and no agent of such locality shall take any administrative action, governing the purchase, possession, transfer, ownership, carrying, storage or transporting of firearms, ammunition, or combination thereof other than those expressly authorized by statute.”

Jarratt then explained that Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, meaning local governments may do only those things that are specifically permitted by state statute or authorized in the jurisdiction’s charter as granted by the General Assembly She confirmed that, in addition to preventing localities from adopting stricter gun laws than what the General Assembly has authorized, the Dillon Rule also prohibits localities from passing or enforcing a local resolution that effectively nullifies one or more state gun laws.

Franklin resident Barry Roberts, a 74-year-old Vietnam veteran, was one of seven to speak in favor of the “Constitutional City” resolution during citizens’ time at the Council meeting.

“I still feel that a person ought to be able to bear arms, so I got a gun permit … followed all legal rules to get that gun permit,” he said. “I’m not a violent person and I hope I never have to use it but I think it’s my right to carry a weapon and defend myself if I have to.”

Two of the seven were from the city of Suffolk, whose City Council also recently discussed passing its own Second Amendment sanctuary resolution. Gary Crossfield, owner of CE Tactical, a gun store on Godwin Boulevard, said he is looking at possibly opening a second store here in Franklin.

“It’s not just the Second Amendment that we’re here fighting for,” Crossfield said. “It’s more than that. You’re not just sending the message by yourself. You’re sending the message along with 46 other counties as Second Amendment sanctuary cities.”

“These proposed laws, it’s not about owning a gun, it’s about what type of gun you can have,” Crossfield continued. “In Virginia, we don’t have the problems [in states] that these laws are already in effect in — Maryland, Chicago, New York — these are the most violent cities across the country, and these are the same gun laws they have there. We don’t have those problems here.”

“Myself, I’m a little fearful for my friends, family and frankly the lives of all Virginia gun owners,” said Wesley Gross, the second Suffolk speaker. “SB 16 [Senate Bill 16] would outright ban the AR 15. It’s one of the most popular weapons in America. I own several, my friends own them, I come out to my friends … we shoot, we have a good time, none of us are violent people.”

When it came time for the Council members to weigh in, Councilman Benny Burgess acknowledged, “We do have a lot of gun violence in this country, but I was born and raised to believe in the Constitution and the Second Amendment.”

Councilman Linwood Johnson, who also voiced his support for the resolution, added that as an elected official, he and the other Council members, by taking the Oath of Office, “are bound to follow the Constitution of the United States, as well as the state Constitution.”

“One of my guns holds over 10 rounds, my pistol, they’ll come and take it, there’s no question about that,” said Vice Mayor Barry Cheatham. “It only holds 12, but 10’s the [proposed] cutoff. Whether I think people need the AR 15s, that’s your personal right to have it. I personally don’t need one. Some people do. Some people want them. I’ve got a friend that’s got two of them and he’s never shot either of them. He collects them.”

“The citizens have spoken, I also support the resolution,” said Councilwoman Wynndolyn Copeland, despite her having campaigned outside a Franklin polling place on election day for the re-election of Del. Roslyn Tyler and other Democrats.

Councilman Greg McLemore, who is involved with the Franklin City Democratic Committee, also supported the resolution despite his personal political affiliation.

“This gives me an opportunity to practice what I preach,” McLemore said. “I’m not here to serve myself. I’m here to do the will of the people, not limited, necessarily, to the constituents of my ward. I have spoken to people about this issue and I’ve heard different sides. I was up in Richmond this past weekend, I heard different sides, mostly compelling. However, you are the citizens of Franklin and it’s not up to me to tell you what I want for you. It’s up to me to do what you want me to do.”

The vote on the resolution carried unanimously. A copy of the resolution will be forwarded to Franklin’s General Assembly representatives.

Editor’s note: A previously published version of this story had incorrectly stated that Suffolk had also recently passed its own Second Amendment sanctuary resolution. While the matter was discussed at a Suffolk City Council meeting on Dec. 4, no vote has been taken on the matter yet.