Virginia Democrats’ push for new gun controls is having a major ripple effect hundreds of miles south in Florida, where at least 10 counties, fearing their state could be next, have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries.”
With residents’ backing, county commissioners have passed resolutions saying they will resist efforts by higher-ups to force gun registration or even confiscation of firearms already in citizens’ hands.
On Saturday, gun rights activists plan to rally at government offices in Santa Rosa County, which lies in the Panhandle section of the state with its dense population of military and veterans, hoping to send a message of support to local commissioners and a warning to the Florida legislature not to follow Virginia’s path.
“The right to bear arms and protect your family is a God-given right, and while it’s probably symbolic, that’s what we are making clear,” said Wayne Smyly, 70, a retiree in Santa Rosa who served in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam.
Florida’s legislature convened Tuesday, and Second Amendment activists fear they will be playing defense in Tallahassee amid a growing anti-gun sentiment nationwide.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida, in 2018 pushed guns back into the news, and shooting sprees in Texas and Ohio last year have kept the pressure on lawmakers.
Florida responded to the Stoneman Douglas shootings with a new law raising the legal age to buy firearms from 18 to 21, and with “red flag” legislation that allows confiscation of weapons from individuals whom authorities or family report to be a danger.
State Rep. Mike Hill has drafted legislation to overturn the age increase but doesn’t have much hope of success.
“What happened after Parkland was emotional mob rule, and it is clearly unconstitutional,” Mr. Hill said. “But my bill hasn’t been given a committee hearing and I don’t think it will get one this session.”
State Rep. Anthony Sabatini of Polk County, another Second Amendment sanctuary, agrees with Mr. Hill. He placed the blame on the legislative leadership in the Florida legislature. Despite solid Republican majorities in both chambers, Mr. Sabatini said many of the GOP leaders have gone soft on guns.
In particular, he cited state Senate President Bill Galvano, whose PAC has received at least $500,000 from Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control group linked with Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.
Mr. Galvano could not be reached for comment.
“This week we’ve already had a bill in committee dealing with extra background checks on gun purchases,” Mr. Sabatini said.
If gun-rights activists feel a cool reception in Florida, things are positively frigid in Virginia, once a solidly red state that is now bright blue.
Democrats claimed total control of the General Assmelby this month for the first time in more than two decades, and credit their backing for new gun controls as a major reason why voters gave them the reins in last year’s elections.
The state Senate on Thursday passed the first two gun control bills of the session. One would give localities the ability to ban firearms from public events, while the other would reimpose a prior law limiting handgun purchases to one per person per 30 days.
The bills, which passed on 21-19 party-line votes, are likely to be followed by limits on semiautomatic rifle purchases and red flag legislation.
Virginia gun activists are planning to rally Monday at the state Capitol in Richmond. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, sparked new anger this week when he declared a state of emergency ahead of the rally and banned weapons from the Capitol Square. A judge upheld the ban on Thursday.
Second Amendment sanctuaries began to pop up during the Obama administration — though they didn’t adopt the term “sanctuary” until they saw the success of illegal immigrant sanctuary cities, which profess to refuse cooperation with federal deportation agencies.
In Florida, the sanctuaries are mostly symbolic.
For one thing, Florida governors can remove sheriffs from office, an executive privilege that has been exercised often.
“Tallahassee trumps the county,” Santa Rosa Commissioner Bob Cole said.
Still, he said he thinks both the sanctuary status declaration and the establishment of a local militia, however informal, matter.
“It’s not going to change the course of history, but it lets people know if you’re in the mood to move away, you might just want to do that or don’t move here to begin with if you disagree.”
Militias first cropped up in Florida in 1994, and at one time were more prevalent than they are today. Their purpose is to match up with the language in the Bill of Rights, and in particular with the Second Amendment.
Sam Mullins, 57, is a Santa Rosa Militia member along with Mr. Smyly. The two are the organizers of Saturday’s rally at which Mr. Hill and others will speak. Mr. Mullins and his wife carry their militia membership cards and while he, too, understands there is more symbol than substance, he still takes it seriously.
“We’re getting a lot of support on social media and hopefully we’ll have hundreds on Saturday,” he said. “We see what’s going on in Virginia, specifically, and we know the far-left politicians are trying to infringe on the Second Amendment. What they are trying in some other states, we don’t want that to come here.”
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.