Franklin PD: We are sworn to uphold the Constitution ‘as written’

Published 7:08 pm Monday, December 23, 2019

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Franklin’s Dec. 9 “Constitutional City” resolution stopped short of declaring any intent on the part of City Council to refuse to enforce new gun laws that may be passed when the now Democratic-majority General Assembly takes office in 2020. Yet it remains unclear as to what stance the Franklin Police Department will take should bills such as Senate Bill 16 become law.

According to Virginia’s Legislative Information System, SB 16, which was pre-filed on Nov. 18 by state Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35), would expand the definition of “assault” firearms and would make the import, sale, transfer, manufacture, purchase, possession or transport of these weapons a Class 6 felony. It would further prohibit a person from carrying in a public place a shotgun with a magazine that holds more than seven rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered, and would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor to import, sell, barter or transfer any firearm magazine designed to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The Franklin Police Department and its members are sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States and Commonwealth of Virginia, and will do so as written,” Chief Steve Patterson said, when asked about his opinion on the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, 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.”

Article I, Section 13 of Virginia’s state constitution also states that “a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state, therefore the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”

Patterson reiterated his “will do so as written” statement when The Tidewater News inquired as to whether his department planned to enforce new gun laws, should they be passed.

Though the city has experienced multiple gun incidents over the past several years, the chief declined to speculate as to whether any of the proposed new gun laws would help stem gun violence in Franklin.

The City of Franklin experiences, in lower numbers, the same gun-related crimes that larger cities and counties do across the state and nation,” Patterson said. “I cannot answer this question further because it would cause me to speculate on incidents of violence that I have no information on, as well as attempting to predict the future, which I cannot do.”

Last week, Southampton County Sheriff-elect Josh A. Wyche Sr., whose department also covers the city of Franklin, pledged not to enforce any new gun laws “deemed unconstitutional,” which Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Camden Cobb clarified to mean that Wyche would indeed refuse to enforce laws that he, in his professional judgment, found to be unconstitutional. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, however, has taken the position that it is up to the courts, and not local officials, to decide on the constitutionality of laws.

Neither local governments nor local constitutional officers have the authority to declare state statutes unconstitutional or decline to follow them on that basis,” Herring writes in an official advisory opinion his office released the morning of Friday, Dec. 20. “Nor may localities or local constitutional officers decline to enforce laws enacted by the General Assembly on the theory that requiring them to do so would ‘commandeer’ local resources.”

Herring’s opinion further stated that, “All actions of the General Assembly are presumed to be constitutional,” and that “it has long been the indisputable and clear function of the courts, federal and state, to pass upon the constitutionality of legislative acts.”