CULPEPER COUNTY, Va. — In the middle of the 2020 Virginia legislative session when proposed gun safety bills were dominating the conversation, Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins vowed to swear in local citizens as Reserve Deputies if gun bills he called "unconstitutional" were passed.
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He specifically expressed concerns about HB 961, which proposed prohibiting the sale and transfer of assault weapons. That bill was continued to the 2021 session.
In preparation for its potential passage, the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office started the process this week of recruiting current and former law enforcement officers to volunteer as background investigators to screen potential Reserve Deputy applicants.
The department is not currently accepting Reserve Deputy applications, but is preparing for that possibility depending on the passage of certain gun bills.
“They’ll volunteer hours every month throughout the year in service to this office or this community and that can be a multitude of things that they do," Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins said of reserve deputy positions. "They can have the right to possess and furnish their own weapons, be it an assault rifle or high capacity magazine, and legally keep possessing those after the ban the legislature might choose to institute."
Jenkins clarified that Reserve Deputies would not enforce laws or act as law enforcement officers.
Jenkins said he wouldn’t put a limit on the number of volunteer deputies the department would potentially bring in. He said so far the majority of people expressing interest are doing so to secure their right to keep their guns.
“You have some who have a sincere interest, they've wanted to assist and support law enforcement in various capacities and now's an opportunity," Jenkins said. “But most of them by and large are wanting to secure their right to own the property that they've owned for years.”
Despite the push to ensure guns aren’t taken away, HB 961 bill sponsor Virginia Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) said law-abiding citizens would not have their guns removed.
“It is designed primarily to prevent mass shootings -- it doesn't take anyone's current weapon away,” Del. Levine said of HB 961. “If you’re sane and you’re law abiding, we might take your cop-killer bullet away, we might take your bump stock away, but we're not going to take your weapon used for self-defense or hunting away.”
Jenkins said since he announced the possibility of Reserve Deputy positions in December, the department has received thousands of emails, phone messages and walk-ins from people trying to start the application process.
“There are a bunch of them around, that's true,” Levine said. “And so I'm not gonna take away the ones that people have but my goal with machine guns is over time that they become rarer and rarer and rarer. Because again, I don't see them having a legitimate purpose for hunting or for self-defense.”
If any future gun safety bills are passed, Jenkins said he would enforce the law. He said it would only be if certain gun bills are passed that he would open the Reserve Deputy applications.
“We said from the beginning we don't want to have to go down this road of swearing in thousands of citizens and doing this type of thing," Jenkins said. "But it is something that I have said I will carry out."