Roanoke Becomes The Latest Virginia City to Adopt a Limited Gun Ban

By Brian Carlton

March 16, 2021

City council signed off on the measure Monday, after hearing from supporters on both sides.

ROANOKE-Roanoke City Mayor Sherman Lea made a promise after the 2019 mass shooting in Virginia Beach. He wanted to prevent something similar from happening in his city. On Monday, Lea felt he delivered on that promise. 

“We’re going to have the ability to make change,” he said. “We’re going to have the ability to make people feel safe in this building.” 

By a 6-1 vote, the Roanoke City Council adopted a limited gun ban. Once signs are put up, guns will be banned from all city-owned buildings, recreation centers and community centers. The order also bans guns from the city’s 60 parks and greenway. It was the last part that made council member Stephanie Moon Reynolds vote against the measure. 

“If we move forward and adopt this ordinance, it is my opinion we will be offering the public a false sense of security,” Reynolds said, questioning how the city would enforce the ban without adding more officers. 

In addition to banning guns in those areas, the ordinance also makes it illegal to possess, carry or transport any ammunition or firearm components within those same areas. 

Now to be clear, while the ban covers the Berglund Center, it will not stop the Roanoke Valley Gun Show from operating this coming weekend. There are two reasons. First, the gun show already has a contract in place. Any changes less than a week before the event could lead to legal action. Second, while the council voted for the order to be “effective immediately,” it can’t actually be enforced yet. Signs have to be put up at all city-owned property. That includes the trails, greenway and the city’s 60 parks. 

Roanoke Creates Some Exemptions and Penalties

Now, there are some exemptions. All law enforcement officers will be able to carry their guns without a problem, on or off duty. On-duty members of the military also get an exemption, as do city security guards. Guns can also be carried in parades, such as honor guards during Veterans Day activities. Historical re-enactors will also be allowed to carry the weapons in the city. In both cases, however, the guns can’t be operational. 

If you don’t fall into any of those categories, however, you’ll face some steep penalties if caught with a gun in city-owned or operated spaces. That includes a $2,500 fine and up to 12 months in jail. 

More than 30 people spoke as part of Monday’s meeting, with people speaking up on both sides. Henry County resident Andy Parker questioned where were the “good guys with a gun” he kept hearing so much about. 

“When was the last time ‘good guys with guns’ stopped a bad guy?” Parker asked. 

Parker is the father of WDBJ journalist Alison Parker, who was shot and killed Aug. 26, 2015 along with photojournalist Adam Ward, by a former co-worker. 

How Did The Decision Come About? 

The council’s decision Monday came as a result of a much earlier vote. In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly passed a law giving cities and counties the authority to regulate firearms in any public buildings, parks and recreation centers.

The bill, which Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law, also gives localities the authority to pan guns during permitted events. The Assembly took it a step further this year, banning guns at all polling places around the state. Several other cities and counties have also adopted gun bans in the wake of that General Assembly vote.

Roanoke becomes the fifth city to adopt a gun ban over the last 12 months, following Richmond, Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church. Fairfax County and Arlington County also adopted similar bans.

Richmond’s city council passed their ban last September, while the majority of the others issued decisions this year. The town of Blacksburg’s version, for example, took effect at the beginning of this month. 

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].

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