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Council approves City Hall gun ban; tighter security plan in the works

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 7/4/2019, 6 a.m.
Fortress City Hall? Maybe. Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration, shaken by the May 31 massacre in which a Virginia Beach ...

Fortress City Hall?

Maybe.

Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration, shaken by the May 31 massacre in which a Virginia Beach city employee killed 12 people and wounded four others at that city’s munici- pal center, is preparing to roll out a plan that could end the free and unfettered movement of the public inside Richmond City Hall and possibly in recreation areas, libraries and other city property.

Police Chief Will Smith cited the massacre in disclosing Monday to City Council that the administration would present in 30 days or so a plan for strengthening the now lax security in public spaces where city authority to ban firearms was stripped away years ago by the General Assembly.

“We are somewhat behind the times in that we are an open, easily accessible operation,” Chief Smith said.

He offered few details of what he described as a long-needed security overhaul that potentially could carry a multimillion-dollar price tag.

Chief Smith made the announcement during a special City Council meeting at which the council gave a big thumbs up to Mayor Stoney’s week-old proposal to ban guns from city buildings and parks. The council’s approval was a largely symbolic vote given the city has no legal authority currently to implement it.

Racing to get it on the books ahead of a special General Assembly session next Tuesday, July 9, to consider gun control legislation, the council voted 7-0, with two members, Kristen N. Larson, 4th District, and Reva M. Trammell, 8th District, abstaining to protest the fast pace that prevented them from hearing from constituents.

Ms. Trammell, who chairs the coun- cil’s Public Safety Committee, received support from two other council members in seeking a 60-day delay on the vote. Irked that the mayor didn’t personally present his proposal because he was attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual convention in Hawaii, Ms. Trammell argued, “I have 26,000 people in my district and they should be able to speak about this.”

She said she has heard from constituents who disagree about the need or want a better explanation of how a gun ban would be enforced.

Ms. Larson also expressed dismay at the swift movement of the legislation and urged more time. So did council member Kim B. Gray, 2nd District, who ultimately joined the majority, despite labeling the legislation “grandstanding” and decrying Mayor Stoney’s description of the General Assembly as “spineless” for failing to address gun control or restore the ability of Richmond and other localities to craft local laws that meet their communities’ needs.

Picking up an argument that several speakers made, Ms. Gray expressed concern that the legislation and height- ened City Hall security mostly would hit those who obey gun laws, not those who don’t.

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Mr. Jones

Most council members, however, agreed with the gun ban. Councilman Michael J. Jones, 9th District, said he is a gun supporter, but noted that urban Richmond is not like rural Virginia and needs to be able to create legislation that serves its residents.

Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, who also backed the legislation, urged the city to be more creative in dealing with gun control. He noted that state law bans firearms on public school property and urged the administration to consider transferring nominal ownership of parks and recreation enters to Richmond Public Schools to take advantage of that option.