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Guns at public meetings invoke uneasy peace
The Virginia Gazette ^ | August 13, 2013 | Cortney Langley

Posted on 08/13/2013 7:34:02 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet

JAMES CITY – Security is on the minds of James City County employees and others in the wake of an Aug. 5 fatal shooting during a supervisors meeting in a rural Pennsylvania township.

Between heated rhetoric and more citizens openly carrying firearms to public meetings, both officials and citizens are pondering the nuances between rhetoric, political statement, intimidation and actual threats. It may also lead to new ways to deliver public comment.

In Pennsylvania, a lone shooter who had been involved in a decade-long zoning dispute with the locality struck during a public meeting. According to news reports he killed three people, including a supervisor, and wounding three more.

"That is distressing," County Administrator Robert Middaugh said of the shooting. "That's a horrible circumstance that could happen anywhere. Unfortunately, it's not an isolated incident."

Middaugh said there is typically at least one law enforcement officer at every Board of Supervisors meeting and more have been scheduled when officials know a particularly controversial group or issue will come up on the agenda.

That was the case this spring when members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun lobby group, showed up to a supervisors meeting in number. They were there to protest the county's decision to remove a pro-Second Amendment statement Sheriff Bob Deeds had posted to his web page. The site is hosted on county servers, and the statement was deemed political.

Many of the members carried firearms at that meeting. It is legal to openly carry in most places, including Virginia government building, but not the General Assembly. To conceal a firearm requires a permit, and all firearms are prohibited in some places, such as schools and churches.

The issue came up again at the county's two recent rural lands meetings. During one, held at Norge Elementary School, W. Walker Ware IV, a speaker who was asked to summarize his comments about government control, said, "I think we take up muskets and start killing people."

Another attendee, Wayne Moyer, immediately asked Ware the speaker to back off the suggestion, saying it "bothers me very much."

At a second rural lands meeting held the next morning at the county's Recreation Center, Joseph Swanenburg, who was present at the Norge meeting, carried his firearm openly.

Middaugh confirmed that a number of county staffers returned to their offices later that day visibly shaken and upset by the mixture of anti-government rhetoric and firepower.

"When people talk about 'get out the muskets,'" Middaugh said, "it would tend to creep out most people. And staff was no exception in that regard."

More concerning to officials is that other citizens are not participating in public discourse because of the climate. "It takes a significant event for someone to come out, at this point," Middaugh said.

In response, officials are exploring ways to exploit technology, such as setting up virtual town hall meetings. Those would allow people to participate from home. Changes in people's preferences are already pushing government that way, he said.

Reached last Thursday, Ware would not comment on what he was trying to convey during the rural lands meeting and called reporting on it "a cheap shot." He also vehemently denied making the statement.

Swanenburg said carrying a firearm the next morning had nothing to do with Ware's statement, which he interpreted as alluding to the events of 1776 and frustration with government control and abuse.

"I hadn't even thought of it," he said in an interview.

Swanenburg did, however, carry his weapon to the second meeting as a statement.

He was reacting to the fact that the county had scheduled the first meeting in a location where he couldn't legally carry concealed (a school), so he responded by carrying openly the next morning.

"First of all, I don't necessarily agree with open carry," he said. "Very seldom do I do it. I did it because the night before, I wasn't allowed."

He believes in the value of criminals never really knowing who can protect themselves and who can't. "I would venture to go so far as to say that there's far more people carrying in (public meetings) that you would ever know."

For him, it's a protective measure against someone like the Pennsylvania shooter. "It's personal safety," he said. "I'm not going to be a victim."

He said others shouldn't feel uncomfortable just because someone with a firearm is in the same room. Lawful gun owners aren't the people committing violent crimes, he said.

Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip VanCleave echoed the same. "The bad guys – You won't see their guns until it's too late," he said. "If some nut did come into a room full of people with guns, he's not going to get very far."

VanCleave said that when members rally to a meeting, the organization doesn't advise them to carry one way or another, although it will advise about relevant carry laws. "We leave it up to them whether to carry open or concealed. We don't encourage it or discourage it."

More to the point, he added: "We don't have open-carry picnics or concealed-carry picnics. We just have picnics."

Motivations vary for carrying to public meetings. Members might be making political statements about their right to do so, might be carrying for protection or might carry openly for ease of access and comfort. "It's going to vary individually," VanCleave said.

Supervisor Mary Jones said the night that the Virginia Citizens Defense League showed up "was probably the safest I've ever felt in a board meeting. I do not have a problem with law-abiding citizens exercising their constitutional rights. Citizens, from my perspective, should feel safer."

If an incident were to occur, armed citizens can protect themselves and others, she said. "I don't know why anyone should be concerned about that."

There was concern a few years ago when she and other supervisors were dealing with persistent personal attacks and she said many people at that time also felt uncomfortable attending meetings.

"We do try to make sure that meetings are safe places for the public and when we know there's a controversial matter or personality, there have been special efforts to provide additional security," Chair John McGlennon said.

He said he hasn't personally felt threatened, but understands the concern. "Yes, I think we've all heard enough comments at one place or another, where people have suggested in the heat of the moment that a resort to violence is necessary. It would have to cause you concern."

"I think that everyone in the room, or most people in the room, were taken aback" by Ware's comment at the rural lands meeting, he said. "And it was an important moment for recognition that some things are outside the bounds of civil discourse."

As far as carrying firearms, he said, "It is certainly done to make a statement, but I'm not sure I would be able to tell you what a person who brings a gun to a meeting is trying to say.

"If the notion is that it makes them feel safer, then okay. But how do other people in the audience feel? If it's done to suggest 'You won't be able to take my guns away from me,' well, I don't think anyone's trying to take guns away from people.

"Then I think it does become more a matter of trying to suggest maybe the speaker, or person, is making a more aggressive statement."

Supervisor Jim Icenhour agreed. "People are making political statements, and that's their right to make those political statements," he said.

Icenhour supports the individual right to bear arms, "but I've always been disturbed by the trend of people who feel they have to carry their weapons in public," he said.

"I think it's rhetoric, and I think it's more intimidation. Why do you put a gun on your hip and walk around, if you're not a police officer? What motivates you to do that?"

Ultimately, Icenhour said, laws on where and how citizens carry firearms might affect how comfortable people feel, but don't make public meetings safer or less safe.

"If somebody has fried their neurons and is going to take it out on someone, I don't think it makes a difference, open carry or not."

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Extended News; Government; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: banglist; donttreadonme; govtabuse; guncontrol; secondamendment; tyranny; vcdl; virginia
So the "feelings" of bureaucrats are more important than rights?
1 posted on 08/13/2013 7:34:02 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
I'll never forget Peter "Bubble Boy" King's panicked call for laws to protect congressmen from constituents after the Giffords shooting.

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2 posted on 08/13/2013 7:37:15 PM PDT by cripplecreek (REMEMBER THE RIVER RAISIN!)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet

3 posted on 08/13/2013 7:46:24 PM PDT by bunkerhill7 (("The Second Amendment has no limits on firepower"-NY State Senator Kathleen A. Marchione.))
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
"When people talk about 'get out the muskets,'" Middaugh said, "it would tend to creep out most people. And staff was no exception in that regard."

If the founding fathers were still alive, they'd have shown up with loaded muskets and plenty of militia members when Franklin Roosevelt was president, if not before.

4 posted on 08/13/2013 8:38:47 PM PDT by Standing Wolf (No tyrant should ever be allowed to die of natural causes.)
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To: 2ndDivisionVet
So the "feelings" of bureaucrats are more important than rights?

In short: yes.
Not having a submissive and deferential attitude is simply a lack of respect on your part — the proper thing to do is:
Stop, Drop, and Cower
[Direct Link]

5 posted on 08/13/2013 8:40:19 PM PDT by OneWingedShark (Q: Why am I here? A: To do Justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God.)
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