(the following news release was issued by the 2nd Amendment Preservation Coalition, headed by Bob Brown. Photo -- Pam Brown at the polls Nov. 3 gathering signatures.
The Norfolk City Council has less than 30 days to act on notarized petitions filed Friday Nov. 6 with the city to decide yes, or no on whether Norfolk should become a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary City.
In late 2019 and early 2020, 151 Virginia municipalities, passed “Second Amendment Sanctuary City Resolutions. What is unique about Norfolk is this is an actual Ordinance and truly represents the will of the people, while a resolution has no binding authority. If this effort is successful it will go before the voters in Norfolk to decide by a referendum election, said the leader of the city petition drive, said Robert Brown, who chairs the 2nd Amendment Preservation Coalition.
Brown and several volunteers collected a record 2,656 signatures at Norfolk polling precincts Nov. 3 – which under the City Charter (Sec. 30) is sufficient to bring the issue to the City Council for action to either reject, adopt or try to amend.
Regardless, 4,000 additional signatures will be needed to hold a referendum on the matter, and this includes new signers and those who have signed before signing again, so long as the total is 4,000 verified voters signing it, according to an Oct. 30 opinion in a suit the coalition filed against the city. What is important for Norfolk voters to know, is they must sign again even if they have signed before, to move towards referendum, Brown said. This is the second petition drive the group had to undertake this year – which is still difficult due to COVID 19.
If the voters in Norfolk vote for Sanctuary status, it means the City cannot prohibit “private handguns in public places - like parks, golf courses or any part of our city during a public event like the St. Patrick’s day parade or the Neon festival in downtown,” Brown said. Our biggest concern is if council adopts their own ordinance, which prohibits guns in a public place, or a permitted event is that citizens would not be able to protect themselves.
He and dozens of 2nd Amendment supporters from area cities flocked Council chambers immediately after the 2019 election requesting Norfolk adopt a 2nd Amendment sanctuary status. Instead of acting, yes or no, or even discussing it, the Council’s Jan. 14 response was for City Clerk, Alan Bull, send a cover letter to the Virginia General Assembly with copies of the emails and testimony of 2ndAmendment supporters, without any comment or debate last winter.
“Norfolk had the opportunity to follow the will of the people but chose to ignore it, so we organized a petition drive under the Norfolk Charter to pass a 2nd Amendment ordinance to let the voters of Norfolk decide,” Brown charged.
According to an Oct. 30 opinion by Circuit Court Judge David Lannetti, “the Coalition filed a copy of a petition Jan. 30, containing signatures of the petition committee members, with the Clerk of the Norfolk Circuit Court.
“On the same day, the clerk issued a "Certificate of Receipt & Acceptance to Initiate an Ordinance" certifying the filing of the Petition, which the clerk referred to as a ''Petition to Initiate an Ordinance."
“As indicated in that certificate, and pursuant to section 31 of the Norfolk City Charter, the Coalition had 120 days-until May 29, 2020 to circulate supporting petitions, gather the necessary signatures of qualified voters, and file the documents with the Norfolk City Clerk's Office.”
Under the Charter, 10% of voters from the preceding municipal election – in the first case, May 2018, – would have to sign the petition to bring it to Council for action. That target was 1,250 based on 2018 May election results, however now the new petition is based on 2019 municipal election and their new target is 1,326 valid signatures which they almost doubled at the Nov. 3 polls, but the Council has to be given the option to act first and has 30 days to respond, Brown explained.
Due to Gov. Ralph Northam’s various executive orders in mid to late March which banned gatherings of more than 10 people, the Coalition could only gather some 1,414 signatures before the May 29 (120-day) deadline, Brown argued in Court.
On May 29, 2020, the Coalition appeared before the Court seeking a temporary injunction for an extension of time to collect signatures; the Court denied the Coalition's motion because it found that the issue “was not yet ripe,” Lannetti wrote. The Coalition was subsequently notified by the city clerk that the Petition failed to meet the required ten-percent signature threshold, because many petition signers did not include their address or even signed it twice.
After submitting the Petition to the city clerk, the Coalition continued to gather signatures, believing they would prevail in court, after essentially being shut down 43 days into their campaign by Governor Northam’s executive orders in response to COVID-19, Brown said. They obtained approximately 800 additional signatures supporting the Petition on the day of the Republican Primary on June 23, Lannetti wrote.
A trial was held on October 7, 2020. According to Lannetti’s opinion, the City Attorney moved to strike the Coalition's evidence regarding alleged constitutional violations, and the Court took the motion under advisement. The Coalition argued their signatures should remain valid, noting a number of candidates for office this year were given reprieves from petition requirements due to COVID.
In his 12-page opinion, Lannetti said he could not extend the 120-day deadline, by law, and ruled the 1,414 signatures the 2nd Amendment Activists spent so much time gathering, and at great risk due to COVID, were ineligible because they fell short of the 10% threshold to be used to get Council’s action or citizen action to move towards referendum.
The judge said “the 120-day time period to collect signatures in section· 31 of the Norfolk City Charter “applies only to petitions to initiate an ordinance submitted to the Norfolk City Council. However, even without an extension to this time period to acquire additional signatures, the Coalition is free to restart the process whenever it wants and as often as it wants,” and not under the same strict time restraint as a candidate running for a particular office.
In that case, Lannetti said, the petitioner may gather signatures that total 25 percent of the number of electors who voted at the last regular Norfolk City Council election, but not less than 4,000.
As for the governor’s restrictions Lannetti was inflexible, Brown said, ruling: “Although the governor's ordered shutdown and restrictions may have made access to citizens more difficult for the Coalition to acquire signatures, the Court finds that access was not impossible. As the Coalition acknowledged at trial, organizers collected approximately 800 signatures at the Republican primary in June 2020, well after the executive orders were in place.”
Brown said he and other 2A supporters are committed to getting the 4,000 signatures from scratch, but he advised the City Council to just take some action on the petitions just submitted Nov. 6.
“The Council should take action, up or down, versus letting this drag on, but we fully prepared to start over to gather 4,000 signatures we need to bring this to referendum in 2021,” he said. “This Mayor and council were absolutely rude and gutless for refusing to even have a conversation with any 2nd Amendment supporter.”
Copies of the opinion and other documents are available from Mr. Brown upon request