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Second Amendment Sanctuaries: Do they carry any weight?

An increasing number of cities and counties in Virginia are declaring themselves 'second amendment sanctuaries.' What does that mean?

GLOUCESTER COUNTY, Va. — At a Gloucester County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, a majority of people in attendance supported a second amendment sanctuary resolution.

"Guns aren't the problem, the people are the problem," one citizen said during the public comment period.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the resolution, but before voting to approve it, representative Chris Hutson acknowledged it lacks significance.

RELATED: Gloucester County Board of Supervisors passes Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution

"What we're looking at passing tonight is more figurative than anything," Hutson said. "It doesn't have a lot of guts to it."

The Gloucester County resolution says the municipal government opposes any law that would unconstitutionally restrict the rights of citizens under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Similar resolutions have been passed by other municipal governments around Virginia, more than 40 so far.

However, in comparison to state law, these resolutions appear to just be symbolic gestures.

Virginia is a Dillon's Rule state, meaning local governments are limited to the powers expressly granted to them by the state legislature. Most regulation of guns and firearms is decided by the General Assembly, where Democrats are expected to propose new gun legislation in the upcoming session.

It's why Delegate Jay Jones of Norfolk sent a letter to Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring this week asking for clarity and an opinion on the validity of second amendment sanctuaries.

RELATED: Norfolk delegate asks AG Mark Herring for opinion on 'Second Amendment Sanctuaries'

"It's certainly a confusing issue for a lot of folks out there and constituents who see a locality passing a resolution, and then not understanding how that interplays with the rest of the body of law that we have here in Virginia," Jones said.

Herring has not issued an official opinion, but a spokeswoman for his office said "these resolutions appear to be nothing more than symbolic since no new gun laws have passed or even been considered yet."

She also wrote: "It's not clear what a second amendment sanctuary is, what its proponents are hoping to accomplish, or what authority they think they have to preemptively opt-out of gun safety laws."

Jones, referencing potential gun legislation, said a clear public understanding is important.

"No one is talking about taking anyone's guns or infringing upon the second amendment," Jones said. "Certainly there are concerns about any laws that might be passed, but anything we pass has to be compliant with the Constitution of the United States and can't preempt federal law in the same way anything that's passed at the local level can't preempt state law."

RELATED: Virginia Beach City Hall overflows with crowd supporting Second Amendment Sanctuary

Following the Virginia Beach mass shooting and the Virginia special session on gun legislation this summer, Republican leaders directed the Virginia State Crime Commission to issue a Report on Mass Killings and Gun Violence.

RELATED: Virginia State Crime Commission gun violence report offers no recommendations

The VSCC gave no recommendations but concluded "any changes to gun laws are policy decisions which can only be made by the General Assembly."

Gun legislation is expected to be a top issue for the upcoming General Assembly session as Democrats hold majorities in both houses of the state legislature for the first time in 20 years.

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