A proposed firearms ban on Albemarle County-owned property will not take effect just yet.
On Wednesday night, the county Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would prohibit firearms from buildings, parks and community centers owned or used by Albemarle for governmental purposes, but did not take a vote.
County staff will revise the proposed ordinance based on feedback and bring it back to the board at a later date — Aug. 18 at the earliest.
Supervisors had come to a consensus on several new recommended changes to the proposed ordinance — such as exempting concealed handgun permit holders — but some board members only supported that in county parks, while others supported that in parks, buildings and community centers.
Nearly all board members were supportive of any lawful gun owner being able to lock their gun in their vehicles in county parking lots at both buildings and parks.
During the board meeting, Amanda Farley, with the county attorney’s office, said the county’s rationale for an ordinance has to do with public safety of government employees and the general public.
“Further, it’s an exercise of management and responsible management of government operations, and over its property,” she said.
Farley said her office was recommending changes to the proposed ordinance.
“One is that the board consider replacing the current discretionary exemptions granted to the county executive in the draft and replace that with a blanket exemption for valid concealed weapon permit holders,” she said.
Notice has to be posted at all entrances of buildings and parks and recreation and community center facilities, and Farley said staff was recommending expressly including that notice provision in the ordinance.
“So if the sign is not there, it’s not enforceable there,” she said.
Violation of the proposed ordinance, if adopted, would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a sentence of up to a year in jail and/or a fine as high as $2,500.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek asked what the rules are for discharge of weapons in county parks.
“The parks rules currently and have for many years prohibited the discharge of firearms in county parks,” County Attorney Greg Kamptner said.
Supervisor Diantha McKeel said that needs to be made clear on the signage.
“I have folks that will not enter a park now if they are concerned,” she said. “I want people to feel safe in our parks … At the same time, I’m trying to compromise and accommodate what folks want that feel more comfortable having a gun with them, but we have to compromise somehow or another.”
Supervisor Liz Palmer said people with concealed handgun permits already are carrying guns in county parks.
“People with concealed permits are carrying guns in there right now. We just don’t know when they do because they are concealed,” she said.
Farley said it’s also illegal to shoot wildlife in county parks now, unless it’s a self-defense situation.
“People are carrying with concealed carry permits, it’s happening now, we’re not really changing that for them if we give that exemption, and I think it’s the cleanest way to move forward,” Palmer said.
Palmer asked if county staff thinks the buildings would need metal detectors.
County Executive Jeff Richardson noted that the county has full-time “ambassadors” at the front door of both county office buildings, who are public safety officers with a contracted agency. He said if the county were to consider metal detectors, that would be a next step to harden the buildings.
“And I’m not prepared tonight to tell you whether we would take that step or whether we would not,” he said. “I didn’t answer your question as to whether we would do it or not. That would be something that we would have to analyze.”
A number of people and positions would be exempt, including law enforcement officers; unsworn animal protection officers; the fire marshal, deputies and assistants; retired law enforcement officers authorized by state code; and people who are surrendering or submitting for safekeeping firearms to the Albemarle County Police Department at the Fifth Street County Office Building.
Others would be exempt while acting within the scope of their duties, including the commonwealth’s attorney, deputy and assistants; authorized employees of the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail; civilian employees of the county police department who are assigned to the forensics unit; active members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Virginia National Guard; security officers licensed and certified by the Department of Criminal Justice Services; and those authorized to carry a firearm while in a county courthouse as allowed by state code.
County staff recommended additional positions for exemptions that are already included in the state code, such as United States Postal Service mail carriers; officers or guards of state correctional facilities; and qualified conservators of the peace, judge or justice of the state.
Board members were also supportive of an exemption for authorized ceremonial events.
Ahead of the public hearing, about 70 people gathered outside the McIntire Road County Office Building for a rally against the ordinance.
Twelve people spoke during the public hearing at the virtual meeting and most were against the ordinance, saying that, as initially proposed, it would create situations that enable criminals and called it “misguided and unnecessary”
“I understand that it may be uncomfortable for some to see an individual carrying a firearm or not see the rationale for carrying legitimately, but I believe a compromise is allowing concealed carry to continue in parks, as it gives an avenue to appease all parties,” said Reid Byam, an area resident. “With this in mind, concealed handgun permit holders should be exempt from the ordinance, as long as the firearm is concealed and the firearm meets the longstanding precedents of reasonable use of force.”
Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley said the ordinance’s purpose is not gun control.
“There’re lots of examples where private property owners have this right to manage their operations, and the government should have a similar right,” he said. “So it’s not gun control because it’s not applicable to citizens in any location other than the government property.”
He said the state of Virginia has concluded that barring firearms from property has legitimate effects because the state has passed laws against firearms at schools, courts and polling places.
“The fact is that the state has already concluded, and I think with good reason, that prohibiting firearms can be effective and Albemarle County should continue to have the right to prohibit firearms on Albemarle County property,” Hingeley said. “That right has been extended to them by the legislature.”