By Jeff Hulbert
Virginia gun owners—incensed by harsh new gun control measures being floated at the statehouse—have harshly rebuked state lawmakers in a daylong face-off that marks the first skirmish of 2020 between citizens and politicians over gun rights.
It took place in Northern Virginia, at a budgetary “public comment” event —one of four taking place across the Old Dominion that were focused on upcoming funding issues.
Tempers flared between citizens and the legislators to the extent that one of the seven Virginia lawmakers on the panel hearing testimony threatened to shut down the gathering.
The tense, and at many times raucous meeting unfolded on the campus of George Mason University—a historical irony that was not lost on the attendees.
As a patriot leader in the American Revolution, it was George Mason who authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights later used to frame the U.S. Constitution.
Elaine Wood, a Nokesville gun owner, gestured to the crowd as she chastised the lawmakers, saying, “I find it ironic that we are discussing gun control in a building named after George Mason!”
That comment set the tone for the day as scores of citizens streamed to the microphone to demand that planned gun control expenditures by statehouse Democrats be scrapped in favor of increased funding for teachers and those with disabilities.
Although testimony was said to be welcome on any Virginia budget issue, most took their three-minute “open mic” opportunity to criticize Governor Ralph Northam’s call to increase state funding by $7.5 million for programs seen as a future down payment on extensive gun control enforcement.
Northern Virginia resident Bruce Novitsky of Burke didn’t mince words when he asked the lawmaker panel “Who are you going to support….the people of Virginia or Michael Bloomberg?”
Marc Gorelick of Arlington told lawmakers they were ignoring facts in favor of “feel good legislation”, that he termed as “ineffective, counterproductive, and wasteful”.
It was a standing-room only situation at the hearing after the leaders of Gun Owners of America and the Virginia Citizens Defense League scrambled to alert Virginia gun owners to the hastily-arranged “public comment” gatherings. This, despite having just 24 hours notice to get the word out.
Even with the rush, one VCDL member saw to it that the roomful of gun rights supporters were sporting the now-famous “Guns Saves Lives” stickers.
David Yarashus of Fairfax came to the “open comment” event with his two sons in tow, and distributed the stickers from a roll that he says he had spent $25 to obtain through the mail from VCDL.
It was yet another pick-up-the-baton triumph for the grassroots energy in Virginia that has captured the attention of gun owners nationwide.
Holmes Whalen, yet another Northern Virginia resident, reminded the lawmakers that the recent 2nd Amendment Sanctuary movement taking root in more than 90% of the Commonwealth’s jurisdictions could not be easily dismissed.
“You cannot ignore those numbers and survive politically”, he warned.
Soon after, frustration and shouted comments erupted in the audience when it became apparent that most of the seven lawmakers on the panel had drifted out of the room.
Several citizens castigated the delegates and senators for their inattention at a point when only about a third of those who signed up to testify had had a chance to speak.
Delegate Mark Sickles, a Democrat from reliably liberal Fairfax County, responded angrily that he and his legislators were only “part-time lawmakers” and needed the leeway to step away for phone calls connected to their occupations.
When Del. Sickles’ retort was met with jeers and boos, he warned that he would shut down the “public comment” gathering if citizens continued in that manner. Hearing the disruption, some of the lawmakers who had left, returned to their seats from an adjacent room that had been set aside for them.
Edda Berglund from Fauquier County—the place that saw 3,000 citizens show up for a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution—quieted the room with her compelling story of her family’s escape from the tyrannical oppression in Cuba.
As a gun rights supporter, Ms. Bergland said “I am here to speak against the slow, insidious erosion of our rights.”
She noted that even places like North Korea declare that they have a constitution and bill of rights, but that they are meaningless pieces of paper because of the dictatorial suffocation of rights there.
Following her was Stafford’s Kim Debey—a married mother of two who holds a concealed handgun permit. She told the lawmaker panel that “Liberty is Job One!” She then turned to the audience and shouted “Harass these people every day and make them earn their pay!”
As senior vice president of Virginia-based “Gun Owners of America,” Erich Pratt stood in line for his turn at the microphone. He praised the Second Amendment sanctuary movement’s overwhelming mandate and then aimed tough questions at the panel.
Why is the Governor requesting millions of dollars to enforce gun control that is not even on the books? Could he be planning to use that money to enforce his gun control agenda through executive order? Would you as legislators support a budget amendment preventing the Governor from doing that?
Pratt closed this way:
Churchgoers in Texas showed us how to stop evil. A good guy with a gun did what gun control can never do—to physically stop a bad guy who is trying to commit murder. Please stand for the rights that are protected in the Virginia and U.S. Constitutions and do not fund the Governor’s request for gun control.
The Virginia Legislature opens in a week, with gun control hearings reportedly on the docket for January 13th, the day that the NRA is organizing a large demonstration on the statehouse grounds.
Following that will be the VCDL Lobby Day event on January 20th—a gathering that VCDL leaders believe could amount to as many as 50,000 people converging on the statehouse in Richmond.
Jeff Hulbert is the founder of Patriot Picket.