Richmond City Council approved an ordinance banning guns from city buildings and parks at its meeting on Monday. Mayor Levar Stoney submitted the proposal June 24, urging council members to approve it prior to the Virginia General Assembly’s special session on gun violence July 9.Without the General Assembly approval of such measures, the ban can’t take effect.
The vote followed a public hearing and concerns voiced among council members about its effectiveness. Newly appointed Richmond Police Chief William Smith presented the case for the proposal in place of Stoney, who was away on business.
Smith recounted nine incidents of gun violence in Richmond parks in 2019, saying the absence of firearms in those scenarios could have led to a better handling of conflict. Robert Sadtler, a gun rights lobbyist who opposed the ordinance, countered Smith by stating that those who intend to do harm won’t care about signs, which makes the ban a “short-sighted, naive policy” that will leave people helpless. Second District resident Larry Hodges agreed, saying that this amendment to city code doesn’t take into account how commonly these incidents involve illegally obtained guns.
“I’m disappointed that it passed,” Hodges says after the meeting. “Some of the council members spoke extemporaneously about their feelings and experiences. Some were completely false.”
Citizens who were in favor of the ordinance felt that while it may not end tragedies such as the recent shooting death of Markiya Dickson, it’s worth supporting the possibility that it could.
“The people of Richmond are fed up with gun violence that’s afflicting our community,” says Paul Fleisher, who works at the Richmond Peace Education Center. “Please. Please set a good example for the General Assembly when they meet next week.”
The absence of knowing how to police and enforce the legislation in public spaces was a point of contention, with council members bringing up the accessibility of city buildings and parks. Councilwoman Kim Gray questioned whether this ban addresses the true issue or if it’s simply political grandstanding.
“This just got introduced a week ago. I don’t know if it goes far enough, if it goes too far,” Gray says. “I haven’t had the opportunity to fully hear the public vetting of this legislation. It’s a week in.”
She, alongside Councilwoman Reva Trammell, voiced concerns about the ordinance making it past the General Assembly. Gray feels its passage is even less likely with Stoney’s comments June 24, in which he called members of the General Assembly “spineless.”
“Well, I’m saying he must be spineless if he’s not here tonight to talk about his paper that affects 218,000 citizens,” Trammell says. “I have too many unanswered questions that people are texting me. … Questions I can’t answer.”
In response to the lack of security briefings and safety procedures in city buildings and parks, which currently require no security upon entrance, the chief of police introduced anticipated security measures the Police Department is taking to ensure safer workplaces and public spaces. Smith hopes to submit the full extent of the comprehensive safety plan to the council within 30 days.
Trammell countered that plans should also be available to the public, along with the option to learn more about the ordinance and have voices heard. To allow this, she proposed a continuance until the council’s Sept. 9 meeting. The motion failed.
Trammell, along with Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, abstained from the final vote. Seven council members voted in favor.
“I certainly respect council’s questions and their concerns,” Smith tells Style after the meeting. “It’s a step in the right direction when we look at securing our facilities and things we can do to improve safety. We need to try every opportunity to do so.”
Stoney previously said in a news conference that if the General Assembly grants Richmond the power to do so, the city will implement it that same day.
“We’ll have to wait and see how that turns out,” Smith says.