Facing opposition from some of its members, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments retracted its position in favor of gun control Wednesday and sent the issue to a committee for further study. But the committee could return with findings similar to those adopted last month, meaning the issue could return and again spark division among the typically cooperative regional group.
After COG formally endorsed a detailed gun control paper issued by the International Association of Chiefs of Police last month, the boards of Loudoun and Frederick counties promptly announced they would no longer pay dues to the association. Prince William County said it would follow suit if the policy wasn’t reversed.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis, who made the motion last month to adopt the IACP policy, likened the responses from Loudoun, Frederick and Prince William to saying, “Now if we don’t get our way, we’re going to take our marbles and go away.”
Prince George’s County Council member Karen Toles defended the policy, saying something needs to be done about gun violence.
“We have a national crisis going on as it relates to our communities,” Toles said. “It’s just a sad day. We shouldn’t have to choose politics over the safety of our children.”
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York, part of a group trying to broker a compromise, responded: “I take great offense, that just because I don’t agree to the solutions being touted by some corners of the world, that I don’t care for children or victims. That is absolutely false.”
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova, who with York and Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille sent a letter last week urging members to reconsider the policy, made the motion to send it back to a committee. Doing so would be “a real example of how leaders on all sides of a controversial issue can work together to resolve it.”
The council typically works together on matters such as police and fire coordination, homeland security, transportation, environment and water issues, all of which cross county or state lines. But when council members adopted the IACP policy calling for bans on assault weapons and armor-piercing bullets, a firearm purchase waiting period and tracing of guns, by a 15 to 5 vote, they sparked outrage in counties where residents don’t necessarily support those ideas.
Loudoun Supervisor Matt Letourneau said the issue was “whether COG will be used as a political forum when there’s no uniqueness or relevance to the matters in front of us.”
Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder was adamant that it was relevant and that COG should stand by the policy. Doing so would “reflect the fact that gun violence exacts a huge and growing toll on local budgets,” whether through having to buy more equipment, hire more officers or train more first responders and educators. “This compromise is no compromise at all. It is capitulation to intimidation.”
Most COG members agreed with Roger Berliner. The Montgomery County Council member said he personally favored gun control but “this isn’t about my views. This is about what’s right for this unique organization.”
The group then voted 24 to 4 to reconsider the gun policy, with Snyder, Davis, Toles and Prince George’s council member Andrea Harrison opposing. A motion to refer the matter to committee for study passed 26 to 2, with only Snyder and Prince William Supervisor Peter Candland voting no.
Candland said the Prince William board “does not believe it is in the purview of COG to take a stance on gun control and the Second Amendment. There are so many issues we can spend time on coming together.” He said regardless of what stance the committee recommends, “I’m against it either way.”
The Human Services and Public Safety Policy Committee, headed by Prince George’s deputy chief administrator Barry Stanton, will now consider the issue and can seek help from a subcommittee of regional police chiefs.
Fairfax City Council member Daniel F. Drummond was hopeful, saying, “I think this will come back up, but in a way that is actionable — meaning we can agree to do something, working with our member jurisdictions, as opposed to making just a statement.”