ILA | Double-Standard: Virginia Eliminates Online Carry Courses While Promoting Distancing for Everything Else

Gun News

Virginia has provided a stark example of how gun control is aimed at harassing law-abiding gun owners rather than improving public safety.

As part of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and the General Assembly’s sweeping attack on gun rights in 2020, anti-gun lawmakers enacted legislation that made it more difficult for gun owners to obtain the required training for a Right-to-Carry permit.

Prior to January 1, applicants had been able to prove their competence with a handgun by providing proof of “Completing any firearms training or safety course or class, including an electronic, video, or online course, conducted by a state-certified or National Rifle Association-certified firearms instructor.” HB 264, signed into law by Gov. Northam on March 23, removed the electronic, video or online course options and required a qualifying firearm training or safety course to take place in-person.

Such legislation is always aimed at inconveniencing gun owners rather than improving public safety. In his book More Guns, Less Crime, Economist John Lott noted that “the presence or length of the training periods typically show no effect on crime…” and “there is no doubt that longer training requirements discourage some people from getting permits.”

However, this legislation is particularly galling given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response to it. Just as the state government is encouraging Virginians to social distance, including distance learning, it has cut off a vital distance learning tool for gun owners. The problem has been exacerbated by Northam’s onerous COVID-19 restrictions on indoor shooting ranges.

Northam signed HB 264 11 days after declaring a state of emergency in response to COVID-19. At the that same time, Northam took measures to protect the state’s workforce by banning state employee travel. Further, the governor directed the state Secretary of Administration “to implement a phased transition to teleworking for state employees” and directed state agencies “to limit in-person meetings and non-essential, work-related gatherings.”

According to Northam, the work of the state government is capable of being done remotely, but remote learning for firearms owners is unacceptable.

Virginia’s premiere state educational institutions were quick to shift to distance learning at the outset of the pandemic. For instance, on March 11 the University of Virginia announced that it would be moving all courses online – 12 days before Northam’s attack on gun owner online learning. The state appears to be so comfortable with the adequacy of distance learning that it has determined it should not stand in the way of someone securing a terminal degree from the second oldest college in America. On March 30, the College of William & Mary announced that it would require all PhD dissertations to be defended remotely.

Despite the protestations of many parents, distance learning has been deemed adequate for the children of Virginia’s largest county. As of January 15, 2021, the Fairfax County Public Schools website stated, “Students will receive virtual instruction 5 days per week. The week will include 4 days of live, face-to-face online instruction with teachers Tuesday through Friday.” Fairfax County plans to keep the virtual model in place at least until February 2.

In order to promote distancing in response to COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has even waived certain training requirements for Class B commercial driver’s licenses.

To their credit, the Virginia Senate attempted to temporarily resolve the online carry injustice in August. The Senate unanimously passed SB 5041, which would have delayed the in-person training requirement until July 1, 2021. The House of Delegates failed to pass the measure. 

Gun owners across the country should take note of the flagrant double-standard at work in Virginia. The state’s eager embrace of distanced work and learning for all but firearms training reveals that HB 264 was never about the inadequacy of remote firearms education, but rather just a convenient means to attack gun owners.

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