Va. House refuses to take testimony on gun bills as revenge against Democratic Senate

Republican Del. Nick Freitas says move is response to actions of Democratic Sen. Louise Lucas

By: - February 9, 2023 6:36 pm

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Democratic-sponsored gun bills weren’t expected to get much support in the Virginia House of Delegates. But a few pieces of legislation died a faster death than normal Thursday as the Republican House and Democratic Senate feuded over protocols for hearing testimony from lawmakers in the other chamber.

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, who chairs the House subcommittee that handles firearm-related legislation, said Thursday afternoon that he was not allowing some Democratic senators to pitch their bills after Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, didn’t let House patrons present their bills to her Senate Education and Health Committee Thursday morning.

“I don’t know how this place works if one house or maybe specifically one person decides that they’re not going to extend the same civility and courtesy to us that they expect,” Freitas said.

The move meant the House subcommittee spent no time discussing the merits or drawbacks of bills to restrict future sales of assault-style firearms, toughen storage rules for gun owners who have minors in their home, enact stronger gun bans on college campuses or expand laws meant to remove firearms from people convicted of domestic violence or subject to restraining orders.

The Democratic patrons of those bills were present for the meeting but only briefly approached the podium one by one without getting a chance to speak to the subcommittee before their legislation was voted down.

Del. Clint Jenkins, D-Suffolk, asked Freitas to change course.

“This is a different body,” Jenkins said. “And I think we should take the high road.”

Freitas was unmoved, saying he felt it was important to send a message that “civility in the process needs to be reciprocated.” He also noted that his subcommittee was only laying the bills on the table, which still leaves room for them to be heard later if the two sides come to an understanding.

“There’s still a possibility for them to come back,” Freitas said.

Freitas said he was only taking the no-hearing approach to bills identical or similar to proposals the House had already heard. That was the same standard Lucas used, he said, in the committee she chairs.

The official legislative video recording of Thursday’s 8 a.m. Senate Education and Health Committee meeting had not been posted online as of 6:30 p.m.

One of the highest-ranking Democratic senators, Lucas has built a large Twitter following and publishes regular posts about throwing Republican bills in the trash. Lucas did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening, but she tweeted about the episode.

“I’ve heard the Republicans are mad I killed their bills to restrict abortion so they are killing our bills on gun safety,” an evening tweet from Lucas said. “So as I understand – if we don’t let them take away rights from women they will make sure more people get shot?”

The GOP-led subcommittee heard several other Democratic-sponsored gun bills but defeated them all.

One of the bills that failed would have created civil penalties of up to $500 for leaving a firearm in an unattended, unlocked vehicle. Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, the bill’s sponsor, has said it could reduce thefts of guns left in cars. 

After Freitas said the bill could create a “perverse incentive” for gun owners to not tell police their firearm had gone missing. Marsden said he would be open to allowing an exemption if a theft of an unsecured gun is reported to police, but the subcommittee still defeated the bill 6-3.

The subcommittee also heard and voted down bills to ban the carrying of certain weapons in public, crack down on so-called ghost guns and make it easier to sue gun manufacturers and dealers.

Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Loudoun, voiced strong frustration after Freitas refused to take testimony on her gun storage bill, saying, “I think they didn’t want to hear our gun bills because they know that they’re wrong.”

“A 6-year-old brought a gun from home at the beginning of this session and shot his teacher, and they’re too chicken to stand up to the [National Rifle Association] and the gun lobby, and instead sent us packing without even being able to present the bills,” said Boysko.

Freitas, who had an education-related bill killed by Lucas’s committee without the opportunity to give testimony Thursday morning, rejected that accusation, saying his subcommittee hears testimony on Democratic gun control bills year after year.

He said he understands the need for legislative efficiency, especially when taking up proposals that have been debated before.

“But not even letting a patron speak to their bill,” he said, “you’re crossing over into something else at that point.”


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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.