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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 ...

Council President Cynthia I. New- bille, 8th District; Council Vice President Chris A. Hilbert, 3rd District; Andreas Addison, 1st District; and Ellen F. Robertson, 6th District; also supported the mayor’s ban proposal.

Mayor Stoney, who was preparing to fly back to Richmond as the council met, expressed satisfaction with the vote, calling it “a strong message to the Virginia General Assembly that Richmond stands ready and willing to immediately implement the kind of common sense gun regulation that will enhance the safety and security of residents, employees and visitors.”

“Now it’s time to take this mo- mentum across the street and hold our commonwealth’s elected representatives accountable for protecting our children and families,” he continued in a statement, adding that Richmond’s leaders “proved they have the spine to act; now the ball is in the General Assembly’s court.”

Republicans, who narrowly control both houses of the state legislature, have indicated they will reject gun control legislation that Gov. Ralph S. Northam has brought them back to Richmond to consider. Republicans killed the same proposals in the General Assembly’s regular session earlier this year and in the past.

Before Monday’s council vote, Chief Smith, with Sheriff Antionette V. Irving and a cadre of deputies in the audience, became the main advocate for the gun ban.

He argued that “people have a right to conduct business without fear of being injured by an illegally carried firearm.” While the chief acknowledged that such a ban would not halt a determined person, he said making guns less available in public spaces could reduce the prospect of a firearm being used when arguments get out of control.

Chief Smith also acknowledged that if the legislature continues to block a ban on guns in public places like City Hall, it would be “meaningless” to install metal detectors as Mr. Jones has advocated because there would be no way to stop or prevent people with guns from entering the building.

That would be fine with Robert Sadtler and Larry Hodges, opponents of the gun ban. They told council that the real impact would be to prevent law-abiding gun owners from carrying guns into city buildings and public spaces.

“All this is going to do is leave people helpless” when something happens, Mr. Sadtler, a representative of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said in urging the measure’s rejection.

Glenwood W. Burley, a retired police officer, urged passage of the legislation he called “proactive, not reactive” in seeking to ward off a Virginia Beach type of incident.

Other supporters, including gun control group Moms Demand Action, view the ban as helpful.

“Every child deserves to feel safe in a park, ” said Laura Swanson of Moms Demand Action, in referencing the fatal shooting of 9-year-old Markiya Dickson during the Memorial Day weekend in a city park. Her death was one of nine park shooting incidents this year.

She called children’s safety in parks “really important to me as a mother” in urging the council to keep that in mind when the members voted.