CHARLES TOWN – When Jefferson County Commissioner Josh Compton recently read about Virginia Democratic lawmakers mobilizing to pass several curbs to individual gun rights, he didn’t think just about the Second Amendment.
He didn’t think as a Republican politician or just about politics. He also thought of economic development.
Compton dashed off a draft letter for National Rifle Association to invite the gun rights group to move its headquarters in Fairfax County, Va.,— in the state that touts a heart for lovers — across the border into neighboring West Virginia, known for its strong protections for individuals to bear firearms.
“I would like to personally invite you and the National Rifle Association of America to come relocate to the Great State of West Virginia and to Jefferson County,” Compton wrote to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre. “We cherish and stand up for our residents’ Right to Bear Arms and are a Constitutional Carry State; we would welcome you wholeheartedly.”
Last Thursday, Compton asked his four fellow Jefferson County commissioners to join him in sending such a letter—as a unified front in extending the NRA a corporate welcome mat.
“We need to think outside the box here in this county,” Compton said. “We do not want heavy industry. … This is low-impact office jobs. It could potentially increase ridership on MARC train, which goes straight to downtown D.C. and is walkable to the U.S. Capitol.
“These are the types of things that we need to pull out of the hat and at least entice folks to move out here.”
Was it a clever political gimmick? Or a deft marketing pitch for Jefferson County? Or was it off the mark?
Jane Tabb, a self-described moderate Republican, thought the proposed NRA pitch “an interesting concept” that called for careful thought and consideration. She said the Jefferson County Development Authority, as the county’s lead body for recruiting companies, should weigh in.
“They’re our economic development people,” Tabb said while interrupted by Compton pressing machine-gun style his cause for sending the letter.
Compton fired at Tabb: “It’s essentially, you are in Virginia right now. Virginia does not like guns.”
“I know all that,” she shot back. “What I’m saying, I think we all need more information before we sign anything.”
Later in the discussion, Tabb added that any economic development pitch to the NRA should be made with the JCDA’s focus and resources, a comment that sparked another verbal volley from Compton.
“I’m trying to figure out why you’re trying to avoid the issue Commission Tabb?” he asked. “This is the problem with the county, that we just lollygag constantly. That’s why there’s no business here — let’s wait another two months, let’s see what happens.”
Calling himself a strong gun-rights Democrat, Commissioner Ralph Lorenzetti cautiously advocated keeping the county’s powder dry over courting the NRA.
He said the NRA would require high-tech, prestigious office space with “mahogany walls” for its national image and employees, something the county may not be able to offer. He added that the association’s employees would probably enjoy living in Jefferson County, but the organization itself probably wouldn’t find much enticing to establish a headquarters.
“You’re basically asking them to move out here without anything to offer,” Lorenzetti said.
Later he said, “I have no problem if they want to bring their offices, but I believe they will ask for something to come here. I don’t think it will be a free lunch for us.”
Commissioner Patsy Noland, a Democrat, said the NRA wasn’t her favorite organization, but that she would be glad for any law-abiding company or organization to bring such office jobs paying strong wages and taxes to the county.
“It sounds like the kind of business we would want in Jefferson County,” she said. “If you take the NRA title off of it, that sounds pretty good to me. … It’s not like they’re going to go out here and shoot them up, you know, just because they’re the NRA.”
However, Noland also said she agreed with Tabb and Lorenzetti: She wanted to see more information to see what the NRA would want from and do in Jefferson County.
Commissioner Caleb Wayne Hudson, a Republican, said he saw no harm in sending the NRA a letter stating that “Jefferson County is open for business.”
“It is an opportunity regardless of lobbyist groups of any ideology coming to Jefferson County is an opportunity,” he said.
In the end, after about 10 minutes of discussion, the commissioners agreed to ask JCDA representatives to offer the thoughts and ideas on Compton’s proposal.