Updates from Letty – July 31, 2020

Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council

Dear Friends,

In a season of too many losses already, the passing of our friend and colleague Dan Sze this week has been especially tough. Even though we can’t gather to mourn the loss, we will continue to reflect on his contributions to our community and keep his family in your thoughts. Per Virginia election law, we will have to take action on his vacant seat, which frankly feels too soon.

In other news, we voted 6-0 at first reading on our local firearms ordinance. As expected, this has been a polarizing topic that has much interest. We have been flooded with emails, of which I estimate 20% are from residents of the City. You can see the comments that were submitted ahead/during our last meeting here that are part of the official record. I’ve appreciated hearing from residents, especially the thoughtful comments that help us refine the ordinance. What is decidedly unhelpful and disappointing is the toxicity from some citizens against the ordinance and those fanning the flames of racism, misogyny, and targeted personal attacks. Those tactics have no place here and certainly don’t persuade anyone. And with the volume of emails we’re receiving, it’s difficult to parse out the constructive ones.

Read on to better understand what this ordinance is and isn’t beyond the hype and get the facts ahead of our final vote on August 10th. And COVID updates and a good community panel to pencil in your calendars next week.

This will be my last post of the summer before I take a small break. I’ll try to catch up on email and still put updates on Facebook, so if you don’t follow me there yet – now is a good time.

Take care,

What Happened This Week:

(1) Firearm Ordinance

  • What and why: To be clear, the proposed ordinance is not a city-wide ban on guns nor does it take anyone’s guns away. This is a restriction of guns on City property and at City events, such as the Library, the Community Center, City Hall, parks and playgrounds, Farmers Market, Memorial Day parade – where we’ve heard from many City residents over the years that they don’t believe guns belong in those public places. This is similar to how guns are prohibited in other public facilities like schools, airports, and courthouses, by both state and federal law. Citizens can still carry guns in their private homes, gun ranges, streets when there are not City events occurring, businesses that allow guns, transport them in their vehicles, etc…this very much remains a gun-friendly country.
  • Background: Every year, we hold a public discussion and adopt our legislative program, which is our priorities for advocacy with the General Assembly. In the 5 years I’ve served on Council (and for 10+ years pre-dating me), Falls Church has asked for more local authority to regulate firearms in our locality, in fact, as a top priority among our requests for Richmond. See the 2020 legislative program we adopted in December 2019. (As an aside, we actually had such authority in the 1980s until the Virginia pre-emption statute took it away.) This year’s General Assembly session granted us back that power, effective July 1st. Personally, I also support other commonsense gun safety measures like background checks, red flag laws, mental health support, and more to address our country’s gun violence problem – but those are not powers we have at the local level.
  • Exemptions: the draft ordinance includes a number of exemptions, such current and retired law enforcement and military and two exemptions we’ve added as a result of our work session discussions.
  • Concealed Carry: Much of this week’s discussion centered on concealed carry, which in Virginia requires a permit issued by the circuit court. While the application requires proof of training and competency with firearms, an online training course still suffices until the law changes next year, which is likely contributing to an uptick in applications. Also of note is that many comments we’ve received have to do with citizens’ desire to conceal carry for self defense/protection, in contrast to the data that actually shows guns may give a false sense of security. They are rarely used successfully in self defense and may actually increase a victim’s injury or lead to unintentional accidents.
  • Similar legislation to prohibit guns in public places is happening across the region, with Alexandria having adopted the ordinance prohibiting both open and concealed carry in similar places last month; Arlington and Fairfax Counties’ vote on their ordinances in September. You can continue to provide public comment at cityclerk@fallschurchva.gov up until our second reading vote on August 10.

(2) COVID Updates

(3) Police Use of Force Review Committee

This week, we approved the appointments of our Police Use of Force Review Committee, as part of signing President Obama’s pledge on police reform. Many thanks to the 69 citizens who applied to the committee, which may be the largest turnout we’ve seen to date. When the committee meetings get underway, these will be posted and open to the public so I encourage you to join in. You can sign up to receive automated meeting notifications.

Other opportunities:

  • The Library is hosting a Community Conversation on Police Reform on Wednesday, August 5 at 7:00 p.m. Request a Zoom invite for the meeting.
  • You can serve by filling vacancies on other city boards and commissions – some in parallel areas of human services, like the Housing Commission and Aurora House and others of interest to fellow parents, like Rec and Parks and the Library Boards. They are usually 1x/month commitments or less and all meeting virtually right now.

What’s Coming Up:

  • Monday, August 3 – City Council Meeting
  • Monday, August 10 – City Council Meeting
  • City Council will be in summer recess after our August 10 meeting

City Council Meetings start at 730 pm, unless otherwise specified. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of all of our other virtual Board & Commission meetings: https://www.fallschurchva.gov/471/Watch-City-Council-Meetings