Virginia AG Concludes Second Amendment Sanctuaries Have ‘No Legal Effect’

December 24, 2019 Updated: December 24, 2019

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Dec. 21 issued an advisory opinion (pdf) concluding that the resolutions passed by local governments declaring themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” have “no legal effect.”

More than 100 cities, towns, and counties have passed such resolutions since Democrats won majorities in the state Senate and House of Delegates in November. They have vowed to oppose any new gun laws they believe violate the Second Amendment.

As the majority of Virginia’s 95 counties have declared themselves sanctuary jurisdictions, Herring said in his advisory opinion that localities “cannot nullify state laws” and must follow gun violence prevention measures passed by the General Assembly.

“These resolutions have no legal force, and they’re just part of an effort by the gun lobby to stoke fear,” Herring said in a statement Friday.

Bills backed by Democrat Virginia Governor Ralph Northam would require current owners to register their weapons with the government and the sale of a number of semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 would be prohibited.

The bill, titled SB 16, 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.” Meanwhile, the definition of “assault firearm” would be expanded under Virginia law, making it against the law for individuals to possess or transport weapons that meet the updated definition.

Under SB 18, the legal age for purchasing a firearm would be raised to 21, while background checks would become necessary for the transfer of firearms, including private sales.

Northam and other Democrat lawmakers have also proposed red flag laws that would allow the temporary removal of guns from someone who is deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.

While thousands of gun rights advocates have shown up at county meetings around the state to support the resolutions, many have vowed to defy new gun restrictions they believe violate theír Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Culpeper County, Virginia, Sheriff Scott Jenkins, meanwhile, said he is prepared to “deputize thousands” in defense of gun rights.

“Neither local governments nor local constitutional officers have the authority to declare state statutes unconstitutional or decline to follow them on that basis,” Herring wrote. “Neither the Federal Constitution nor Virginia law recognizes any ‘anti-commandeering’ principle that allows localities or local constitutional officers to refuse to participate in the enforcement of state law.”

Philip Van Cleave, president of the gun-rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League, called Herring’s advisory opinion “a yawn.”

“The whole idea was to send a message from local government representing large numbers of people to say no more gun control,” Van Cleave said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.