Residents bring militia resolution, hints of secession to Wise County Board of Supervisors

Mike Still • Feb 14, 2020 at 3:00 PM

WISE – Militias and joining West Virginia were part of public comments at Thursday’s Wise County Board of Supervisors meeting.

About 50 people — some wearing “Guns Save Lives” stickers and Second Amendment shirts — vented about gun control bills being debated in the General Assembly.

Clarence “Rusty” Peters, a member of the Wise County Patriots Group formed last fall to advocate Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions, said he and other gun owners “will be a felon if House Bill 961 passes” — a reference to legislation that would prohibit the sale, transfer or transport of assault firearms or large-capacity magazines in the state.

A similar state Senate bill failed earlier in the current legislative session, while HB 961 has been sent to the Senate. Southwest Virginia legislators said in a conference call on Thursday that they also expect the House bill to fail in the Senate.

Peters also complained of “red-flag” legislation making its way through the General Assembly that would allow court-ordered seizure of firearms from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

In a reference to public encouragement by West Virginia officials to persuade Virginia counties to secede and join that state, Peters suggested that the supervisors consider joining “the reformed government of Virginia … West Virginia.” He also said the board should consider passing a militia resolution supporting the county’s ability to organize and raise a militia force.

Peters said a militia resolution would be “a thumb in the eye” of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

Fellow Wise County Patriots Group member Travis Anderson also complained about pending state gun legislation, and county resident Gary Flanary asked where the board was on a militia resolution.

“With the government in the shape it’s in, that’s why we need a militia,” Flanary said.

Ralph Gilley, another Patriots Group member, gave board chairman John Schoolcraft a draft militia resolution he said was identical to one passed by Norton City Council in January.

University of Virginia constitutional and local government law expert Richard Schragger in January said the Norton militia resolution appeared to conflict with existing state law on militias.

Schragger, referring to the Norton resolution, said that state law specifically gives only the governor the power to call up the militias defined in state law: the National Guard, state Defense Force and the “unorganized militia” of all able-bodied residents ages 16-55.

In his review of the resolution, Schragger said state law also grants authority for command of all state militias under the governor to the state adjutant general. Those militias are subject to the same rules, regulations and penalties as the National Guard.

“There’s no independent authority for local governments to muster or organize the militia,” Schragger said, “and there’s no mayoral authority or board of supervisors authority to muster the militia.”

“Militia is not just a bunch of armed thugs,” county resident Charlotte McConnell told the board, saying that a group of which she is a member is working on a footbridge replacement at the High Knob Recreation Area. She said many militia members have medical skills as well.

“It would be beneficial to the county as a group,” McConnell said.

In other business, the board voted 7-0, with Supervisor James Lawson absent, to grant tax-exempt status to The Laurels long-term care facility. The facility is operated by Freewill Baptist Ministries, and had been the subject of back property and business taxes due to what Ministries officials said was an oversight in setting up the operation’s tax-exempt status.

The board also unanimously approved setting up a capital outlay fund to designate monies for county or school system projects. A renewal of cable service company Inter Mountain Cable also passed unanimously.

The board also agreed 7-0 to endorse an anticipated $1 million grant application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to replace the Appalachia Fire Department’s aerial apparatus and ladder truck. Travis Anderson, also the town’s deputy fire chief, said the grant would require a 10% county match, but the sale of the department’s 30-year-old aerial truck should offset about half of that required county match.

Anderson said the new truck would be a county-wide asset, just as the existing truck has responded to all towns and county localities when needed. If the Appalachia Fire Department ever closes, the truck would revert to county ownership.

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