gun

The idea serves as a symbolic message to oppose gun legislation.

Since December, Harrisonburg gun stores saw an increase in firearms and ammunition sales, reflecting the statewide increase that made December 2019 the second-highest monthly total of 76,559 firearms sold since 1990.                                                                   

The increase in sales and support for Harrisonburg to become a sanctuary city may be attributed to gun owners’ reactions to the new, more stringent gun control policies at the state level. 

The resolution to make Harrisonburg a sanctuary city was proposed by Councilman George Hirschman and discussed by the city council last Tuesday. The resolution would call for local law enforcement to not enforce potential gun control measures that the state legislature might pass, which may include universal background checks or weapon bans on certain firearms. 

Harrisonburg gun store owners saw the increase in sales firsthand starting in December, Matt Hill, owner of Liberty Arms, said. Hill said he’s sure many of his customers are buying new firearms due to their “frustration” with the newly proposed state gun control laws. 

“Every day, someone brings it up, asking, ‘What do you think is going to happen?’” Hill said. “‘Do you think these laws are going to get passed?’ It’s definitely on people’s minds, for sure.”

The “tremendous increase in sales” in December and January may be attributed both to holiday sales and customers’ reactions to the proposed gun policies, Jon Ritenour, owner of Homestead Gunsmith Shop, said. He said he read reports that totaled the newly purchased guns processed by state police in December and so far in January to be over 77,000 in Virginia. 

“It’s going to affect, particularly, individual sales,” Ritenour said. “The way they’ve got this expanded background check bill written right now, it affects the buyer and the seller.”

Ritenour’s family has owned Homestead Gunsmith Shop in Harrisonburg for 59 years, and he’s an active member and advocate of the firearm community. Homestead Gunsmith Shop chartered a bus to take Harrisonburg residents to the rally in Richmond on Monday, Jan. 20, joining the seven buses that carried Rockingham County residents to the state capitol, Ritenour said. 

“The general shooting public is pretty upset at the way things are going,” Ritenour said. “We knew what was going to happen if the Democrats took control; it was already on the agenda. We’ve been trying to push our customers into voter registration and voting.”

The advocacy of Harrisonburg gun owners led to the proposed resolution to make the city a Second Amendment sanctuary. Hirschman brought forward this resolution for discussion because of the support for the resolution he heard from community members, and he said he believed it was an issue worth discussion. 

The resolution was originally intended by advocates to be on the city council agenda with hopes of council members voting on the issue, but it was relegated to a discussion that showed the rest of council isn’t in favor of the resolution, Hirschman said. Community members in the audience gave their vocal support for the resolution. 

“What we’re doing, essentially, is letting the governor know that we would like to keep those rights,” Hirschman said. “That night at council, it was standing room only, and I think there were two people in the room that were against it.”

This resolution calls for the new gun control policies to not be enforced within the city limits but is largely understood to be a show of discontent for the proposed legislation. The resolution, if voted in, wouldn’t enact any laws or legally allow law enforcement to refuse to enforce the proposed new background checks or weapons bans. 

While not legally enforceable, the resolution in Harrisonburg is part of a larger trend that led to what WSLS 10 reports is a majority of Virginia counties that have enacted the resolution to be a Second Amendment sanctuary. For gun owners and firearm sellers, the resolution was a chance to voice their opinion on the legislation, something that Hill and Ritenour both said they believe is usually ignored. 

“While a lot of it’s symbolic, it’s nice to know that your local government’s behind you if the state government’s not,” Hill said. 

Contact Jamie McEachin at mceachja@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.