Gun control debate renewed after two mass shootings in Virginia

Concealed Carry

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The General Assembly will return to Richmond in the new year with a renewed focus on gun control after Virginia suffered two high-profile mass shootings in less than two weeks.

With a Republican-controlled House of Delegates and a Democratic majority in the state Senate, the debate is likely destined for gridlock.  

Earlier this month, a student at the University of Virginia allegedly shot and killed three football players after a field trip. Most recently, a Walmart supervisor at a store in Chesapeake killed six of his co-workers.

Officials say the Walmart gunman legally bought his pistol just hours before pulling the trigger. The revelation is causing some to call for a required waiting period after gun purchases in Virginia to try and prevent rash crimes. Only a handful of states currently mandate a “cooling off period,” ranging from 72 hours to 14 days, before a buyer can take home a newly purchased firearm, according to the Giffords Law Center.

Delegate Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax) said he would support a mandatory waiting period.

“We have tried without success in years past to pass bills like that. I am hopeful, ever hopeful, that our colleagues across the aisle will be able to see the wisdom behind laws like that,” Sullivan said.

Virginia Citizens Defense League President Phil Van Cleave is opposed.

“It’s not worth considering at all. There have been people killed because they were waiting for their gun to clear a waiting period. It can cut both ways. It can take lives as well as prevent something,” Van Cleave said.

It’s one of several proposals that may be introduced in the 2023 session, which kicks off in January. In a statement last week, House Democrats announced plans to support legislation that increases industry accountability, adds age restrictions on certain weapons, bans the use of ghost guns and creates limits on high-capacity magazines.

“If we can avoid just one of these tragedies, and even if we never know it, it will have been worth doing,” Sullivan said when asked if any of these bills could’ve prevented recent mass shootings in Virginia.

Those plans are still short on specifics. Sullivan said bills are still being drafted.

For example, it’s not yet clear how many rounds or bullets a magazine would be able to hold under the legislation, or at what age lawmakers would seek to restrict gun purchases. Sullivan said Virginians can expect Democrats to “raise questions” about teenagers buying “AR-style weapons.”

Van Cleave said these proposals are unconstitutional and won’t survive legal challenges, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a century-old New York law restricting concealed carry. Additionally, he said none of these proposed reforms would have prevented recent shootings in Virginia.

“This is all pie-in-the-sky stuff that will get struck down in court even if they manage to pass it,” Van Cleave said. “There is no way you’re going to stop somebody who is hell-bent on ignoring the law and killing people from killing people. So the best you can do is make sure people can protect themselves.”

Asked to weigh in last week, Governor Glenn Youngkin told reporters that it was too soon to discuss gun control reforms because investigations are still ongoing.

“We will have, once the facts and circumstances are well understood, an opportunity to take actions. Today we must stay focused on families,” Youngkin said.

In an email on Monday, Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter didn’t directly respond to specific questions about gun control proposals. Instead, she referred to Youngkin’s previous comments and added that the administration will be rolling out an agenda to address Virginia’s mental health crisis.

During his campaign last year, Youngkin was not endorsed by the National Rifle Association, even as the group backed other statewide GOP candidates.

Earlier this year, Republicans in the General Assembly tried to repeal several gun control reforms signed into law under former Governor Ralph Northam’s administration but Youngkin didn’t include any of those bills in his legislative agenda for the 2022 session.

Virginia’s new red flag law has been a frequent target of the GOP since it passed in 2020. Sullivan, who sponsored the bill, said Democrats will reject any new efforts to roll it back and try to improve implementation using federal funding made available by a bipartisan gun violence prevention law that passed in Congress earlier this year.

Sullivan sent a letter to the Department of Criminal Justice Services Director Jackson Miller earlier this month asking if the Youngkin administration applied for funding. He said, based on the current formula, Virginia has been awarded $5,081,671 for FY 2022 and FY 2023, but the state must apply by Dec. 19, 2022, to get the money.

Sullivan said he has not heard back yet and Youngkin’s office didn’t respond to questions about the application status on Monday.

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