Culminating a grueling 5 hour, 15 minute virtual meeting Monday night, the Falls Church City Council voted unanimously, 6-0, to enact a “Firearms on City Property and Events” ordinance that will go into effect Nov. 1.
It prohibits the possession of firearms, open or concealed, in official City-owned locations such as buildings (including City Hall and the Community Center), parks, facilities and streets when City-sponsored events are occurring.
It augments existing prohibitions of firearms on or in the vicinity of all schools.
The ordinance is modelled on one passed in Alexandria in June and ones that are expected to be adopted soon in Arlington and Fairfax.
It was initiated following the July 1 implementation of a new law passed by the State Legislature and Gov. Ralph Northam permitting local jurisdictions to enact such measures for the first time since the 1980s, when the General Assembly acted to prohibit such local ordinances.
The meeting last night was made lengthy by the public reading by City officials of some 75 public comments of three minutes or less (with some that went considerably over), all but two of which opposed the ordinance, and of those more than half from persons not living in the City of Falls Church.
The reading of those comments consumed more than two hours, from 9:21 – 11:30 p.m.
Following that, in comments prior to the vote, Councilmember Letty Hardi reported that she’d tallied all the comments she’d received, including 676 emails, and two petitions each with nearly 500 signatures, prior to the comments made at the meeting, and that, she said, “From my count about 30 percent of the total comments and signatures are actual residents of the City of Falls Church, and of those, there was nearly a 3-to-1 margin of City residents who support the ordinance.”
She said, “I have heard an overwhelming number of actual residents, who have long asked for this authority since it was taken away in the 1980s, who believe that guns don’t belong where children play, where they check out library books, where they are conducting City business, where they are buying food at the Farmer’s Market, or where they vote.”
She added, “The data is overwhelmingly clear that more guns lead to more deaths. The statistics show that concealed carry guns are rarely used effectively in self defense, but lead to more accidents and unintended injuries, ultimately doing more harm to others than their intent….We do have this ability to honor the wishes of our citizens to make our library, park, city hall, community center and public events to be gun-free.”
Numerous of those who testified against the ordinance cited an unscientific poll in the News-Press last week that showed a wide majority also opposed.
Upon further review of the News-Press’ unscientific poll from last week, which asked visitors to its website whether they agreed with the Council’s preliminary vote in favor of banning guns on City property, it found that 2,500 votes had been cast. That dwarfed the usual weekly poll numbers of a few hundred.
Falls Church Chief of Police Mary Gavin said that the new law can be adequately enforced.
At a work session on the topic last week, she noted that there are as many as 700 citizens in the City of 15,000 who hold “concealed carry” permits due to their roles with the federal government and regional agencies.
“There are a lot of weapons in the National Capital Area,” she said, “and the vast majority are responsible, safe gun owners.” For them, she added, “It’s a lifestyle.”