On the day I began writing this post, the Governor of Virginia signed into law a number of state-wide gun control measures passed by a newly Democratic General Assembly. For decades, that body had been dominated by Republicans, who had resisted strengthening gun regulations despite recent mass shootings and the shocking images of white supremacists and armed militias toting assault rifles in Charlottesville during the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally. In 2019, Democrats ran on a platform of “commonsense” gun laws and voters expected them to deliver, which they did, at least in part. Some proposals—like an assault weapons ban—did not clear the General Assembly.
What is notable, though not necessarily surprising, is that as the newly constituted General Assembly began considering gun control measures, pro-gun-rights groups ran a concerted opposition campaign grounded in a robust localism that they had never embraced under the previous state administration. Suddenly Second Amendment sanctuaries appeared across the state, with local city councils and boards of supervisors adopting declarations that affirmed their support for Second Amendment rights, and that further called for local resistance to state mandates. There was a certain irony in these calls for state forbearance. As many Democratic legislators pointed out, under a Republican General Assembly, the state had preempted almost all local gun regulations, including the ability for cities to regulate guns in public places and during demonstrations—a feature of state law preemption that led to the dramatic and frightening scenes in Charlottesville. Localism only became attractive once gun-rights advocates had lost power in Richmond.