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Ready, fire ... aim? / September 10, 2020
It’s telling that amid all the complaints about how Virginia Democrats have violated citizens’ Second Amendment rights by ramming gun legislation through the General Assembly, no one has taken the meaningful next step in challenging these supposedly unconstitutional laws.

What meaningful next step would this be? Glad you asked. It would be the same step Americans have taken to settle constitutional disputes since the founding of the Republic — since 1803, anyway, when the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in Madison v. Marbury that the nation’s high court, and state and federal courts in general, are the arbiters of what is legal and what is not. If you think a law is unconstitutional, take your case to a judge (up successive rungs of the judicial ladder, provided you are granted the right to appeal.)

But hey, who needs the law of the land with a warm gun in hand?

On Tuesday night, the Halifax County Board of Supervisors opted to hold off on taking a vote to formally recognize the Halifax County Militia as .... um, something. A makeshift disaster response team? A citizen police force? A gaggle of heavily armed citizens who can be called upon to intervene when the police and military can no longer maintain the peace? No one seems to be able to say.

So, good for the supervisors for slow-walking a decision in this case. But, bad, bad, bad on them for bringing up this cockamamie resolution in the first place. It’s often said, in reference to our current president, that there’s no bottom. Apparently we have a similar problem with our Board of Supervisors.

What could possibly go wrong with formal designation of a Halifax County Militia, comprised of a group of gun-besotted local citizens who presently call themselves the Halifax County Militia? You probably wouldn’t ask that question if you first gave the matter ten seconds’ thought. Because then you might ask these questions, too:

» If a member of our local militia kills someone — as they clearly possess the lethal force to do, intentionally or unintentionally — will Halifax County taxpayers be on the hook for inevitable lawsuits?

» Does the Board of Supervisors have an idea in mind to grant qualified immunity to militia members who may use deadly force, wittingly or otherwise? Because supervisors may want to check with the County Attorney first on that score. “Qualified immunity” is a broad legal protection granted to law enforcements officers and other public servants (but especially police) to shield them from civil liability in the performance of their official duties. If supervisors think members of a self-styled citizen militia are covered under qualified immunity, chances are excellent our supervisors also believe in the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny.

» Since the point has been raised, did supervisors consult with the County Attorney before drafting their proposed, and now tabled, resolution?

» Do our county leaders watch the news on TV? Do they really want to stamp the official imprimatur of Halifax County onto a militia movement that is rife with controversy and violent acts? Are we all Clive Bundy now? If citizens want to gather up their guns and go march in formation off in a field somewhere, fine, go for it. It’s a free country. But inviting these folks to wield deadly force in lieu of police or the military is an invitation to disaster. If the Board recognizes the Halifax County Militia as an official paramilitary force, what legal leg will supervisors stand on when the New Black Panthers come calling for the same recognition? Just to be clear, this is strictly a hypothetical, troll-adjacent question. I have yet to meet a Black person in Halifax County (or anywhere else) who advocates armed resistance against the state because they don’t like the laws enacted by democratically elected representatives. Which is more than I can say for some people.

17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was big-time into the local militia movement in his Illinois hometown. Rittenhouse is charged with gunning down two protestors in nearby Kenosha, Wisconsin with an AR-15 assault rifle. By all appearances, he’s one messed-up young person, failed at every turn by the adults in his orbit. (He’s also facing two first-degree murder charges.) Is vigilante justice something we should welcome in Halifax County? Let’s set aside the fairy tales about militia members coming through during a natural disaster. Did members of the Halifax County Militia show up to the entirely peaceable (and thoroughly excellent) Black Lives Matter rally in South Boston with an arsenal of firearms because they had advance warning that an earthquake was about to strike?

The response of the crowd of more than 500 people, Black and White, that day to militia members in their midst is exactly the posture that the Board of Supervisors should adopt now: Ignore the militia. I can’t say I have a major problem with recognizing Mitzi Thompson, its putative commander, with a proclamation on behalf of her work to organize a “Back the Blue” rally in the Town of Halifax on Aug. 23. People wanted to show support for law enforcement, and again, that’s fine — but let’s not lose sight of the obvious outrages committed by police in the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. (The Kenosha protests were sparked by an officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back as he tried to duck into his car, where his three young children were waiting. He is now paralyzed.) The August rally in Halifax was entirely legitimate, whatever else you may personally think about the conduct of police departments around the country. (For my part, I struggle to square what I see and read in the news with the many decent individuals I know in local law enforcement, some of whom I count as friends.) By approving a resolution to honor Thompson on Tuesday night, supervisors did for her what they’ve done for thousands of other individuals who have gotten involved in county affairs. No particular harm in that.

By contrast, the board potentially invites considerable harm by formally recognizing a county militia — kow-towing to unregulated, unaccountable movement that has no business standing in for police or the National Guard or anyone else. It’s especially maddening that board members appear to have entertained this nonsense without doing a smidgen of due diligence, legally speaking. We’re fortunate a few supervisors — Stanley Brandon and William Bryant Claiborne most prominently — and citizens who spoke at the meeting had the good sense and gumption to point out what a colossally bad idea this entire business is. Maybe the Board of Supervisors should pass a resolution honoring them.

Setting aside funds for a Kevlar boot would be appropriate, too, given board members’ apparent desire to shoot themselves — and Halifax County — in the foot.

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