City Council: ‘Emotions are too raw’ to support bill allowing localities to ban guns in govt. buildings

The mass shooting happened in Building 2, May 31, 2019. (Southside Daily/Melanie Occhiuzzo)
The mass shooting happened in Building 2, May 31, 2019. (Southside Daily/Melanie Occhiuzzo)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Thirty-one residents stood in front of City Council Tuesday to either oppose or support a bill allowing localities to ban carrying guns in government buildings.

Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten and Councilman Guy King Tower requested the resolution just in time for Gov. Ralph Northam’s July 9 special session.

RELATED STORY: Virginia Beach mass shooting aftermath: Northam announces special session on gun control

Council members heard from advocates like a Moms Demand Action volunteer who said “tonight, we employ you to put the full support of the Virginia Beach City Council behind this resolution.”

But, they also heard from people like 15-year Public Works employee David Jarman, who asked the council members to oppose the resolution, saying his co-workers “ran, hid, but couldn’t fight” during the mass shooting May 31.

Jarman recounted being relieved when he saw a familiar co-worker walking out of Building 2 that day, “I hugged him and said ‘I’m so glad you’re safe.'”

“He looked at me and said ‘I’ve never felt so hopeless in my life,’ then he reached in his pocket, and pulled out a stapler and said ‘this is all I had to defend myself’,” Jarman said.

Like Jarman, some opponents of the resolution thought supporting the bill would be a “knee-jerk reaction” while the city is still recovering after a longtime public utilities employee opened fire in the government building where he worked killing 12 people.

Councilwoman Jessica Abbott motioned to “move for an indefinite deferral” and said, “I do not think we are doing our due diligence as a body by voting on this 17 days after a tragedy.”

“We need to discuss all possible solutions, we need to engage the public, and we need to engage each other,” she said.

Wooten said although she agrees with due diligence and collaboration, “there’s a timeline you have to address to make sure the governor receives that recommendation prior to July 9.”

“Otherwise, there’s no point,” she said.

With the support of Mayor Bobby Dyer, the resolution was deferred indefinitely in an 8-2 vote.

“My fear is if we act during a time of heightened emotion it could polarize us and I don’t want to see that,” Dyer said. “We have to have a meaningful conversation that is designed to have an outcome, that is designed to figure out what we have in common — not just divide us.”

In her response to residents, Wooten presented a “proactive plan” to address the events on May 31 to include considering mental health and “evaluating the promotion process.”

Also included in Wooten’s plan was the resolution for enhanced building security, directing the city manager to evaluate current measures and recommend possible new standards.

The resolution was approved with an amendment introduced by Councilman John Moss, stating the city manager’s report not be presented to the council until 30 days after they receive the Virginia Beach Police’s criminal investigation report.

“It makes it better because we get full advantage of the findings of the report before the manager gives us his assessment and his recommendations,” Moss said.

Other resolutions passed Tuesday night included accepting two years worth of donated office space for displaced Building 2 employees and a resolution in memory of the 12 victims.

RELATED STORY: Virginia Beach mass shooting aftermath: Here’s what city officials talked about regarding Building 2

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Lucretia Cunningham is a multimedia journalist at Southside Daily covering hyper-local stories in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Her stories focus on public safety, tourism, and city government. She is a Virginia transplant and military spouse originally from Chicago. Lucretia also served on active duty from 2006 to 2016 and started her journalism career as a broadcaster in the Virginia Air National Guard. When she’s not covering stories on the Southside, she’s covering stories with her Air National Guard unit.