Democratic lawmaker proposes banning guns on Capitol Square

By: - November 22, 2019 12:10 am

Many rally attendees carried guns, which are allowed on Capitol Square and within the Capitol building itself with a concealed carry permit. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

With Virginia Democrats expected to pass tougher gun laws next year, a state senator wants to keep guns out of the government complex where laws are made.

Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, has filed a bill to ban guns and other weapons on Capitol Square, a change that could complicate pro-gun activists’ ability to stage their annual armed rallies at the statehouse.

In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, Ebbin said his bill would bring areas under the legislature’s control in line with the gun bans that already exist in courtrooms and Executive Branch buildings.

“These are areas that need to be secure,” Ebbin said. “I think it’s better to err on the side of protection.”

Similar bills have been proposed in past sessions, but they’ve gotten little support from Republicans who have resisted nearly all legislation they see as anti-gun. In 2020, Democrats will have majorities in both chambers for the first time in decades, giving them new power to decide if the Capitol should go gun-free.

Philip Van Cleave – president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which holds a rally on Capitol Square each January prefaced by gun-toting members lobbying state lawmakers in the General Assembly office building – didn’t seem concerned that the bill would pass.

“They’ve been trying that for years,” Van Cleave said.

Ebbin’s bill includes exemptions for law enforcement, security personnel, military members and officers of the court. But it doesn’t exempt General Assembly members, some of whom have had firearm-related mishaps over the years. In 2006, a Republican delegate accidentally fired a handgun in his office, shooting into a bulletproof vest hanging on a door. In 2017, a Republican state senator accidentally left a holstered handgun on a chair in a meeting room.

Earlier this year, Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, raised eyebrows by wearing a revolver on her hip while presenting her bills to a committee, a move she described as a “deterrent” to aggressive left-wing activists.

Last year, Democrats in the House of Delegates pushed for a rule change that would ban guns in the gallery overseeing the legislative floor, bringing the House in line with the same rule in the Senate. Republicans voted it down.

Under Ebbin’s bill, anyone who violates the weapons ban could be convicted of a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,500. Weapons discovered on Capitol Square could be seized by law enforcement, the legislation states.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.