Legislation meant to give gun owners a break for initial violations of Virginia’s concealed carry law failed Monday in a Senate committee, but several Democratic senators said they were interested in exploring the concept further.
Del. Tim Anderson, R-Virginia Beach, presented the bill as a criminal-justice reform measure, arguing Black Virginians are disproportionately impacted by concealed carry enforcement. Though a firearm visible on a dashboard or secured in a vehicle’s glove box wouldn’t bring a concealed weapon charge during a traffic stop, Anderson told senators, a gun stored under a seat could be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Similarly, he said, a pistol someone’s openly carrying on their hip can become unlawful if a jacket covers it up.
“Citizens don’t know this until they’re on the wrong side of it,” said Anderson, who suggested making initial concealed carry violations a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100.
Anderson has said he supports permit-free concealed carry, or constitutional carry in the parlance of gun rights-groups. But if the state is going to require permits, he said, his bill would make the existing law less punitive.
Subsequent violations of concealed carry laws are currently punishable as felonies, but Anderson’s bill would have dropped them to misdemeanor offenses. Unlike felonies, misdemeanor convictions do not strip someone of their right to own a gun. The legislation would also allow violators to apply for a concealed carry permit after an initial offense and present that permit to a judge to try to get legal proceedings dropped.
The bill drew opposition from the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, gun-control advocates and some prosecutors, who argued it would remove a valuable crime-reduction tool. Opponents said Virginia already makes it easy for gun owners to get a concealed carry permit and responsible gun owners should know those rules.
“This bill is a threat to public safety,” Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi, told the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday morning. “It is harder to fall off a log than it is to get a concealed carry permit.”
Anderson pointed to recent Virginia court data he obtained showing nearly 68 percent of misdemeanor concealed-weapon convictions involved Black defendants. That data showed more than 2,300 convictions covering 2019 and 2020.
The bill picked up a few Democratic votes when it passed the House of Delegates 53-46. It failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 10-5 vote, with Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, joining nine Democrats opposed to it.
Sens. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond and Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, both said they would welcome further study of the issue even though they couldn’t support the bill as written.
“I do think we should take this up next year,” Petersen said prior to the committee vote. “I think there’s a lot of issues here in terms of how this law is applied, how consistently it’s applied.”
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