Virginia Democrats roll out gun-control proposals, Republicans float bills to loosen some restrictions

By: - January 4, 2019 6:31 pm

Potential buyers try out guns which are displayed on an exhibitor’s table during the Nation’s Gun Show on November 18, 2016 at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The show is one of the largest in the area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam rolled out a package of seven gun-control measures Friday he said he hoped would find bipartisan support when the General Assembly convenes next week.

Among them: universal background checks, a revival of the state’s one-hand-gun-a-month law and a ban on assault weapons.

Republican leaders have so far declined to comment, but similar proposals were swiftly defeated last year in the House and Senate, where the party holds a narrow majority.

Instead, legislation introduced to date by members of the GOP caucus calls for taking small steps in the other direction. One bill filed would repeal the prohibition on carrying guns and other weapons into places of worship. Another would allow firefighters and EMTs to carry concealed weapons into schools and other places weapons are banned.

Still, Northam said he believes his party’s gun control push will find success this year, though he offered few details as to why and said he had not yet started talking to Republican leaders about the proposals.

“I think there will be some (Republicans) that will be willing to work with us,” he said. “The way I’m going to approach this perhaps is a little different this year and that is to find something that we can agree on first.”

The package unveiled by Northam includes:

• The revival of the one-hand-gun-a-month law, which was repealed in 2012 and Northam said would “help to prevent people from stockpiling firearms and transporting them for sale in other states.” Gunrunners have in the past bragged about how easy it is to buy guns in Virginia.

• A ban on assault weapons, which would be defined as any gun with a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

• Universal background checks, which are not currently required in private and online sales.

• A requirement for gun owners to report the loss or theft of guns to police.

• A law that would make it a felony to leave loaded, unsecured guns around children under age 18. Currently it’s a misdemeanor and the age cut-off is 14.

• And two protective-order bills, one that would make it a felony for someone subject to a final order of protection from possessing a firearm and one that would create an “Extreme Risk Protective Order,” which would allow authorities to confiscate someone’s guns if a court deemed them a “substantial danger to themselves or others.”

In advocating for the bills, Northam described his experience as a military doctor, saying “we do not need weapons of war on our streets and in our societies.”

A spokesman for Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox declined to comment Friday, telling media outlets his office was focused on tax policy: “We have yet to evaluate Gov. Northam’s proposals.”

Republican gun proposals loosen restrictions

Republican members of the General Assembly have already filed a number of bills addressing guns, some of which would loosen existing gun restrictions.

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, introduced a proposal she said aims to allow firefighters and EMTs to carry concealed weapons into schools, government places and other places they are currently banned.

“The challenge is, if they go to a school and there’s a school shooting, and they happen to already to be concealed carrying, they can’t take the gun,” she said. “They’re going to have to lock the gun on the ambulance or firetruck before they go on scene. They should be able to quickly respond to that emergency.”

She said the measure was requested by rural jurisdictions where police response times are slower and firefighters and EMTs often arrive before police. She noted it would be up to individual departments whether to adopt policies to allow their employees to carry guns.

(According to a summary of the legislation prepared by the Department of Legislative Services, the bill would also allow the emergency responders to concealed carry without obtaining a permit, but she said that is an error and not the intent of the bill.)

Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun, meanwhile, has filed legislation that would repeal a ban on carrying weapons in places of worship while religious services and events are being held.

Another piece of Republican-sponsored legislation would make it easier for police departments to sell service weapons and handguns to auxiliary police officers with more than 10 years of service by eliminating a requirement that the local governing body approve the sale.

And Del. Matt Farris, R-Campbell, filed a bill that would allow property owners to shoot nuisance animals from inside a vehicle. State code defines nuisance species as “blackbirds, coyotes, crows, cowbirds, feral swine, grackles, English sparrows, starlings, or those species designated as such by regulations.”

There is one area Republican lawmakers feel gun owners might need to be reined in: exploding targets.

The devices, fueled by a substance called tannerite, can cause loud booming sounds that have vexed some localities, and, elsewhere, sparked massive forest fires.

Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, filed legislation that would allow localities to prohibit the use of tannerite targets. Meanwhile, Del Daniel Marshall, R-Danville, would limit the size of the targets used to no more than five pounds of explosives.




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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.