The Falls Church City Council Monday voted unanimously to advance a new gun control ordinance that bans the carrying of weapons on City-owned or operated properties despite a heavy outpouring of written citizen comments opposing the step.
Legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled Richmond state legislature earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam allowed local jurisdictions for the first time in over 30 years to fashion their own restrictions on guns, and Falls Church has followed Alexandria and Arlington to push for the same restrictions that the City has lobbied for over decades.
A second hearing and final vote on the proposed ordinance TR20-19 will be held on Aug. 10. It is expected that the meeting will be held online at that time.
In a related development Monday, the Council confirmed the appointment of 13 citizens and City staff personnel to its new Use of Force Review Committee. The formation of the new committee arose in the light of this summer’s heightened “Black Lives Matter” movement arising from a uniformed officer’s killing of George Floyd in late May in a video viewed by millions on national TV, but it also coincides with the City’s adoption of a gun control ordinance.
The 13 citizens chosen for the committee were from 69 applicants and 23 finalists.
Selected to the committee are public representatives Brian Cheswick, Julie Felgar, Janis Johnson, Toni Lewis, Joseph Rollo, Dana Salvano-Dunn, Raymond Touomou, department representative Jenny Carroll, Employment Advisory Council representative Diann Bullock, Police Department representative Markus Bristol, Police Department Command Staff representative Joe Carter, Sheriff’s Department representative Metin Cay and Schools representative Seve Padilla.
It was pointed out at Monday’s meeting that meetings of the group will be open to the public, and the hope was expressed that many of the 69 applicants and others will remain active following and commenting on the activities of the group.
TO-20-19 would amend Chapter 2, Article 6 of the Falls Church City Code, “Public Property and Facilities,” to add a new section 2-211 “prohibiting weapons on City property, in City facilities and at City events.”
The prospective new ordinance would prohibit the “possession, carrying or transportation of any firearms, ammunition or components or combination thereof in City buildings, facilities, parks, and in streets when such streets are being used for public events.”
F.C. City Attorney Carol McCoskrie stressed at Monday’s meeting that “this is not a ban on weapons, but a prohibition on City property.”
The prohibition will be applied to buildings owned and used by the City or its entities, parks, recreation and community center locations and streets and roads when they are being used for permitted events during the time of those events.
Exceptions include military personnel undertaking official duties, law enforcement or retired law enforcement, private security personnel hired by the City, reenactors of historical events not using operative weapons, firearms not loaded secured in a vehicle using streets for usual transportation purposes or parked and locked on public property by persons conducting business with the City.
The ordinance, in keeping with the new state law, includes ample signage to notify the public of the applicable prohibitions.
Pursuant to the new state laws, fines and punishments for violations of the ordinance may not exceed a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by not more than a $2,500 fine or a year in jail.
It is proposed that the ordinance would become effective on Nov. 1, 2020 to allow time for signage to be posted.
The ordinance will not apply to public schools property, since that is already covered by the Gun Free Schools Act and local school board policy prohibiting guns.
Falls Church Police Chief Mary Gavin testified that the vast majority of persons licensed to carry concealed weapons are very responsible, but with permits granted for five-year periods, councilman David Snyder cautioned that over a five year period, individuals can undergo major changes, joining a hate group, undergoing a mental illness, having a bad experience with government or developing a grudge, and it bothers him not to know who, in any given situation, may be carrying a loaded weapon or not.
Councilman Ross Litkenhous added that, insofar as the nation “has a gun problem,” even if the data does not yet show Falls Church to have problems in that area, reasonable prohibitions represent a “question of community values,” and notwithstanding concealed carriers, those who are “open carriers” are often being provocative, and there should never be guns where children gather.
A predominance of public remarks opposing the proposed ordinance argued that the City does not need the ordinance addressing a non-existent problem, and it violates the right to self defense.