Trump renews calls for red flag laws Va. GOP voted down earlier this year

By: - August 5, 2019 12:18 pm

Hundreds of advocates filled Capitol Square ahead of the special session on guns last month. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

After twin mass shootings left at least 30 dead in 24 hours, President Donald Trump disappointed gun safety activists by focusing his response on “the perils of the internet and social media.”

But over the course of remarks Tuesday morning, he did renew his administration’s calls for so-called red flag laws, or extreme risk protective orders, which have been implemented in 17 states, according to the Giffords Law Center.

Virginia is not one of them.

While Republican legislatures elsewhere have supported the bills, including in Indiana and Florida, GOP committees in the Virginia House and Senate voted down the measures in January.

The legislation would allow police to ask a judge for permission to temporarily take firearms from a person who is deemed “a substantial risk to himself or others.”

In the House, Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Fairfax, stressed Trump’s endorsement when he pitched the law to the four Republicans who control the subcommittee that hears gun legislation.

The chairman, Del. Matt Fariss, R-Campbell, appeared unmoved, giving the measure a 10-minute hearing and hurrying Sullivan along when he referenced the president’s support.

“Let’s talk about the bill instead of everybody that supports it,” he said.

The bill, along with every other piece of Democrats’ gun control proposals the committee heard, fell on a party line vote. The entire meeting lasted about an hour.

The bill fared slightly better in the Senate, where it picked up its only Republican supporter, suburban Richmond Sen. Glenn Sturtevant.

But other GOP senators said they shared concerns voiced by pro-gun groups like the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which called it a gun confiscation measure that violated due process.

“If you were suicidal or angry to begin with, this is really going to make you suicidal or angry,” said Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave, who also expressed concern for the care with which police would treat their weapons. “They’re probably going to be thrown in the back of a police car.”

Supporters, meanwhile, argue family members and other acquaintances are most likely to pick up on threats and other dangerous behavior and police should be empowered to act on those. As proposed in Virginia, the person subject to the protective order would be allowed to challenge it in court, but only after it is served. For it to be extended beyond 14 days, a circuit court judge would have to sign off after a hearing.

Advocates also note the laws have already been shown to save lives in other states, a claim PolitiFact rated “mostly true,” citing studies that “have concluded that one life was saved for every 10 firearms seized in Connecticut and Indiana.”

Lawmakers had another chance to act on the legislation last month during a special session Gov. Ralph Northam called to consider gun legislation following the mass shooting in Virginia Beach.

Republicans did not take any votes, adjourning after about 90 minutes and forwarding the legislation to the State Crime Commission for study.

Asked whether Trump’s renewed endorsement was likely to impact the party’s view on the legislation, a spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, noted the legislation would be studied by the commission, but that existing temporary and emergency detention laws already “ensure that anyone who may be a threat to themselves or others can get the emergency help they need.”

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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.