Local Commentary

City Property Gun Ban Reflects F.C.’s Focus On Safety

For more than a decade, the City Council’s publicly discussed legislative program included a request for the authority to ban firearms from City owned facilities like City Hall, the Community Center, the Farmers’ Market and the library. The City Council’s unanimous Monday vote to ban firearms from City facilities and during City sponsored events was made possible by the State Legislature and Governor earlier this year.

This year’s action in Richmond ended the one-sided preemption of local authority in favor of gun activists and allowed the decisions on public safety to be made by local elected officials for their communities depending on their particular circumstances.

Our vote also represented a repudiation of past intimidation by gun toting activists who filled City Hall to demand retraction of an administrative rule simply allowing for notification to the police when a firearm on City property was discovered.

The critical aspect of the change in Richmond was to allow local decision-making on this fundamental issue of local public safety.

Falls Church’s successful model of crime prevention and control relies on a rapid response, highly motivated, well trained and equipped police force led by effective commanders and accompanied by the additional resources of the sheriff’s office. In this context it seems to me, there is not the need for the public to be heavily armed to protect itself, compared to other places. Instead, we generally rely on our professional law enforcement.

There may, however, be jurisdictions in Virginia where police response times are measured in hours instead of a few minutes as here, or they lack the political will to adequately support their law enforcement as we do here.

So there, you may need a firearm to feel and be safe. That is not the case here.

Being a highly educated and aware community, it is expected and appreciated that not all citizens agree with our decision. All views were heard and carefully considered. Most persuasive to me, were the points made by the majority of citizens supporting the legislation and the success of our public safety model. It was also important that our employees, who often interface with the public, were supportive of the ordinance we approved.

The most compelling arguments against our vote came from citizens who have concealed carry permits.

We made efforts to try to address their concerns and did so, at least partially, with an amendment. Other larger accommodations were explored but were not able to be adopted at this time due to enforcement concerns.
This will continue to be an issue that should be reviewed from time to time in the context of our City’s public safety conditions. Should our traditional approach to public safety be eroded then the need for self-defense would increase.

We were often asked to explain what problem we were solving in the context of Falls Church’s relative safety and lack of gun related incidents.

That positive record bears out the approach we have followed in the City, with its emphasis on supporting our police. But, the data show that actions like we have taken to improve public safety are also important to deal with the increase in gun related incidents regionally and the increasing lethality as a result of the ready availability of assault weapons.

In fact, none other than the CDC and the American Medical Association refer to gun violence as a major public health issue.

With our law now being clear that firearms are not permitted on City property, citizens and employees can be more proactive because they now have the basis to notify the police earlier of the presence of a firearm, so as to better prevent gun related incidents.

So I view our ordinance as increasing our collective ability to prevent gun related violence.

In voting to prohibit firearms from City facilities and events, we had one objective and that was to provide for the safety of our citizens against gun violence.

We were assured that we were acting in conformance to the law, including the Constitution and the Second Amendment. We were also assured by our Police Chief that the ordinance is enforceable.

David Snyder is a member of Falls Church’s City Council