A recently posted sign requesting that guns not be brought into Boones Mill town hall sparked controversy at a town council meeting Tuesday night -- and drew the attention of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
But, in the end, debate over the Second Amendment paled in comparison to other, more personal issues, the likes of which have repeatedly plagued the council's notoriously volatile meetings.
Last week, incumbent mayor E.V. "Ben" Flora won re-election over challenger Robert Hogan by a vote of 40 to 38. Former council members Hogan and his wife, Patricia, resigned their positions in March 2007 over the council's refusal to fire Police Chief and Town Manager Lynn Frith, who had issued Robert Hogan a speeding ticket.
More recently, however, debate has been waged over a series of signs first demanding, then requesting that weapons not be carried by those attending meetings.
Frith said the first sign went up about a month ago after it was approved at the last council meeting.
However, according to Mark Flynn, director of legal services for the Virginia Municipal League, Virginia law prohibits a city or town from banning guns in most public buildings or property, although there are exceptions for schools, courthouses, jails and police stations.
The council eventually had the town's attorney draft a notice that rephrased the demand as a request.
"We're just asking for people's cooperation," Frith said. "We've just had citizens complain ... that they don't feel that firearms should be in the town hall."
The sign came to the attention of Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. He attended Tuesday's meeting to speak against it and said Robert Hogan had notified him of the sign when it was first posted.
The current version of the sign, Van Cleave said, is "a different animal," but he still feels it should be removed.
"I'm offended by that sign," he said. "If someone is frightened of an inanimate object such as a gun, maybe that person should go see a psychiatrist."
Robert Hogan, sporting an American flag necktie before the meeting, carried a .38 caliber revolver in a holster under two layers of clothing: his sport coat and dress shirt.
"I like to be inconspicuous," he explained. "I don't want to attract attention that I have a gun on me. Although everybody within 100 yards knows I carry a gun."
Supporters of the VCDL crowded into Boones Mill's tiny town hall wearing holstered handguns and blaze orange stickers that read, "GUNS Save Lives."
During the council meeting -- which, by fire code, was limited to 30 people -- Van Cleave drew a connection between criminal awareness and gun-free zones. He cited shootings at Virginia Tech last year and at the city hall in Kirkwood, Mo., in February, and said gun access could've prevented those situations.
Paul Henick of Richmond was one of three other VCDL members who spoke, and he said the sign expressed a negative bias.
"You have judged me and determined I'm likely to cause discord because I choose to carry a firearm," Henick said. "I must strenuously object to your prejudice against me."
The only Boones Mill resident who argued in favor of keeping guns out was Robert Ghirihghelli.
"I support your right to carry," he said, but offered that "a weapon ... a machete ... an ax ... a gun ... might be intimidating. I support your right. Respect the people who give you that right."
Henick hastened to object.
"No one gives me that right," he said.
But once the gun debate ended, matters became far more contentious.
Craig Drewry of Boones Mill voiced a concern that Flora, the newly elected mayor, does not live in Boones Mill and contested his residency, a requirement of the office. Flora insisted that he does live in the town, but was told by Shannon Shepard of Franklin County that he lives in a commercial building -- a violation of Virginia code, she said. Shepard later identified herself as Robert and Patricia Hogan's daughter, and she and Flora exchanged verbal jabs.
Flora told Shepard he intended to resolve the questions regarding his residency, "and I'll do it just for you." Flora then addressed the VCDL members, telling them, "You're here because one person wanted you here for his own personal notion."
He said the council would make a decision regarding the sign soon.
Later, he apologized for the disruption and admitted, "We need to, as a group, operate to better this town."
Toward the end of the meeting, John Pierce, an executive member of the VCDL, remarked, "Usually when we show up at town council meetings, we're the ones who cause the hullabaloo.
"You guys obviously still have issues to address, and I wish you the best," he continued, then offered to give city council members free gun safety lessons.