As the Leesburg Town Council continues to gather information about the cost of imposing a gun prohibition in Town Hall, it appears at least possible that it could entertain extending that ban to other highly trafficked government buildings.
On Monday night, the council held another work session on the proposed gun ban after first discussing the matter in August. This follows action by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors this spring to enact a firearms ban at county-owned properties, with metal detectors and security screening recently debuting in the government center.
In August, a majority of council members indicated support for restricting firearms in Town Hall, but did not show much enthusiasm for extending that ban in other town-owned properties. But a question posed by Mayor Kelly Burk to Parks and Recreation Department Director Rich Williams could change that.
Burk asked Williams during the council’s work session whether a ban should also be considered for Ida Lee Park Recreation Center, given its high usage and long hours.
“You’ve got a building which is a very active building, the general public is coming in at all times. My opinion as director if [a firearms ban] is instituted at Town Hall it should be instituted in other high-volume buildings,” Williams said.
Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel pointed out the town’s two other high-volume buildings, in addition to Town Hall and the recreation center—Leesburg Executive Airport and the Thomas Balch Library. But he added that in reaching out to both Airport Director Scott Coffman and Balch Library Director Alexandra Gressitt neither indicated that they felt unsafe in those facilities, and had had no requests from the public for such a ban in either property.
Town Manager Kaj Dentler said it would not be a bad idea to explore costs for extending such a ban to all four buildings.
“If we made security measures here and Ida Lee and something happened in Balch how are we going to react to that,” he asked. “Are you sure want to limit our research to two buildings now? I think it behooves us to find out what is available, what are the costs. We shouldn’t limit ourselves in my opinion.”
The costs for instituting any type of security measures to detect firearms can be far-ranging, Markel said. It could be as simple as putting up signage indicating a ban, a low-cost option but a minor deterrent that would not pick up on the presence of concealed weapons. Or the council could choose to put a more robust security screening process in place, involving staffed security personnel and some type of screening equipment.
Such equipment starts at a handheld metal detecting wand, at a cost of around $500 per wand, to a walk-through metal detector with a secondary screening area, which costs anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000.
Leesburg also could choose to follow the example of its county counterparts who selected an enhanced system with sensor and artificial intelligence screening and a secondary screening area. The county’s system allows the general public to walk through the security area without emptying their pockets, and the system can detect the physical profiles of firearms and alert security personnel to check the individual in a secondary screening area. Start-up costs for such a system run anywhere from $18,000 to $20,000, with annual costs at around $20,000. That is in addition to paying for security personnel, which can run $25 to $30 hourly per security guard, with two to three personnel per shift.
Markel pointed out that the county system does not screen employees, only the general public, which was a policy decision made by the Board of Supervisors. Currently, Leesburg town government employees are not permitted to bring firearms into town government buildings, but may leave them secured in their vehicles.
Should the council opt to go forward with some type of ban and security screening, council members could choose to extend the screening to both employees and the general public, or even limit screening to only prior to and during Town Council meetings, Markel said.
Regardless of whether the council institutes any type of firearms barn, Markel noted that the Town Hall lobby would continue to have a security officer on duty, and a Leesburg Police Department officer would continue to attend every Town Council meeting.
The council seemed to agree that more cost figures would need to be available before making a decision on such a ban and potential security screening. Councilman Neil Steinberg, however, indicated support for a firearms ban and pointed to recent unrest at some local elected bodies’ meetings, most notably the School Board.
“I know we have people who are resistant to this idea. There’s no question that government centers are becoming focal points for emotionally charged issues and individuals. It’s unfortunate we’ve come to this point, but for us to not do what I feel to be the responsible thing here would not serve the community,” he said.
Councilman Ara Bagdasarian, whose company Omnilert has worked on a wide range of campus security programs, said the council can’t take on the “it’ll never happen here” mentality.
“The reality when it comes to gun safety is everyone thinks it’ll never happen here,” he said. “We have a choice to be proactive or reactive with this.”
Councilwoman Suzanne Fox, however, said Leesburg is different than Loudoun County and should not focus on emotions in making such a decision.
“In order for me to support any sort of restriction, I would need to know the exact nature of the problem we’re trying to solve, and then be provided the data to support the actions. If we do that I feel like it’s viable; if we can’t I would not be on board,” she said. “We should never make some sort of substantive policy on subjective things that we’ve been through.”
Markel is expected to return the council with more cost scenarios and information. Dentler has recommended that the town work with a security consultant to design a screening program to identify staffing and funding needs.