(Updated 9/18) After hours of passionate public input at their meeting Tuesday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed a ban on carrying guns on county property.
The Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance 9-1, immediately taking effect and applying to County buildings, parks, recreation and community centers.
The state law that let Fairfax County ban guns on public property, is something that Jeff McKay, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the county has been asking for decades. Similar bans were implemented in Alexandria, Arlington, and Falls Church.
“There is also a lot of fear in this community about guns,” McKay said. “So while gun rights advocates are concerned for their own safety, you have to understand there [are] a ton of people in this county worried about guns — period.”
In April, Gov. Ralph Northam signed a new gun control law enabling local governments to ban guns on public property and spaces. The bill followed a charged legislative session in Richmond, where armed pro-gun protesters showed up to the state capital as the legislature was considering proposed gun control measures.
One of the drivers of the ban on guns on public property was a 2019 shooting in Virginia Beach, where a gunman killed 12 people at a municipal building.
Before the vote, many speakers at the public hearing testified about the fear they have about guns and how state and local officials need to enact strong gun control measures to prevent a similar mass shooting from happening in Fairfax County.
Martina Leinz, president of the Northern Virginia chapter of Brady United Against Gun Violence, urged the Board of Supervisors to pass the ordnance saying there is a history of armed protesters showing up at gun control events on public spaces in Fairfax County, which she said was a form of intimidation.
“These should all be safe spaces that allow for the free and open exchange of speech and ideas without threat or intimidation by those carrying firearms,” Leinz said.
Pat Herrity, the lone Republican on the Board of Supervisors and the lone vote against the ordinance, spoke for the many pro-gun residents who testified at Tuesday’s public hearing, saying that ordinance was about politics not about public safety.
“I don’t believe a ban on guns makes Fairfax County public places or our citizens any safer and for me, that’s the benchmark,” Herrity said.
The Board of Supervisors immediately voted on the ordinance after over five hours of public testimony on the bill, to Herrity’s dismay, who said the board should have waited to vote, so it could take the ordinance up in committee to review public comments before passing it.
Additionally, the ordinance will require county buildings to post signs at entrances alerting people of the ban on guns and ammunition in public spaces, something that some pro-gun advocates pointed out could be irrelevant to any potential criminal.
“Do we really think a mass shooter is going to turn around when they see a ‘no guns allowed’ sign,” Grant Kendall, who testified against the ordinance, said. “Will criminals, already committed to doing much worse be deterred? No, of course not and it’s ridiculous to think so.”
The ordinance has exemptions for those in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, those participating in collegiate sporting events, police officers or educational county programs. The ordinance will also exempt the Bull Run Shooting Center, a public gun range in Centreville.
Staff photo of County Board pre-pandemic by Jay Westcott