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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — In what they acknowledged is a long-shot bid, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. urged unhappy Virginia counties Tuesday to secede and join a neighboring state where Democrats aren't in charge.
Both Justice, a Republican in a state where the GOP dominates the legislature, and Falwell, whose university is in Lynchburg, Virginia, said the invitation to join West Virginia sends a valid message.
“If you're not truly happy where you are, we stand with open arms to take you from Virginia or anywhere where you may be," said Justice. “We stand strongly behind the Second Amendment and we stand strongly for the unborn.”
This month, the West Virginia House of Delegates and Senate introduced resolutions inviting parts of Virginia to join West Virginia.
One of the resolutions targets Virginia's Frederick County, but was met with a shrug from the county's leader. The other casts a wider net to all Virginia's counties, saying the “government at Richmond now seeks to place intolerable restraints upon the rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
The move came during intense public push-back against plans by Virginia's Democratic leadership to pass gun control measures such as universal background checks, a one-handgun-purchase-a-month limit.
The proposals sparked a massive rally at the Virginia Capitol, where tens of thousands guns-rights activists flooded the area around the statehouse, some donning tactical gear and military rifles. The day passed largely without incident.
“What's happening in Virginia right now is a tragedy in the making,” Falwell said. "Democratic leaders in Richmond, through their elitism and radicalism, have left a nearly unrecognizable state in their wake.”
The process by which such a breakup could occur is murky, but Falwell said lawyers have told him counties in Virginia would first need to conduct petition drives. Then a referendum would be held, and if successful, the proposal would go before Virginia's General Assembly.
Liberty is the nation's highest-profile evangelical college. It has expanded from a tiny Baptist school into a touchstone institution for evangelicals. Both Falwell and Justice are ardent supporters of President Donald Trump.
The push-back against proposed new gun restrictions began immediately after Democrats won majorities in the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates in November, with much of the opposition focused on a proposed assault weapons ban. More than 100 Virginia communities have since passed measures declaring support for the Second Amendment.