Several Democratic bills aimed at gun safety — including proposals to ban future sales of assault-style firearms — have advanced out of committee or been referred to finance committees in the House of Delegates and state Senate.
With Democrats controlling both chambers, the bills appear likely to clear the House and Senate and make their way to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk for his consideration.
A proposed assault weapon ban, Senate Bill 2, by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, cleared the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Monday on a party-line vote of 9-6 and was sent to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.
A House counterpart, House Bill 2 from Del. Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, cleared the House Public Safety Committee on Friday on an 11-9 vote and was referred to the Appropriations Committee.
Lawmakers often refer bills that might have a fiscal impact to the money committees for their consideration.
A proposed assault weapon ban cleared the Senate last year with bipartisan support before it was voted down in the then-GOP-controlled House.
A number of other Democratic gun bills are also advancing through the General Assembly this session.
from Sen. Suhas Subramanyam, D-Loudoun, would require a five-day waiting period to purchase a gun. It also cleared the Senate Courts panel on Monday on a 9-6 vote and was referred to the Finance and Appropriations panel.
When presenting his bill, the senator said background checks can sometimes take that long and that his bill would ensure that process is completed.
“It’s almost like a cooling-off period,” he said, referring to people who might seek to get a gun to end their lives and might change their minds during the waiting period.
During public comment, Charlottesville-area resident Melissa Palombi called in to share how her husband was able to buy a gun and kill himself.
“He was my world. He had a wonderful sense of humor,” she said.
Her voice cracked as she described laughter filling their home. She also said he battled with depression and that a brain injury hampered his impulse control.
“A waiting period could make it harder for someone like my husband to act from an acute lack of impulse control,” Palombi said. “There’s not a day that goes by I do not wonder if a waiting period could have given my husband a chance to live.”
But Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said a waiting period would affect people trying to purchase guns at gun shows who may have to “drive across the state” to get the gun from the dealer.
Other opponents worried that the waiting period could affect victims of domestic violence who might wish to purchase a firearm to protect themselves from abusers. Members of Van Cleave’s organization and the National Rifle Association spoke in opposition to the Democratic-led bills.
Though many of the Democratic-sponsored bills could fare well within the legislature, the governor will have the final say.
Spokesperson Christian Martinez said Youngkin would “review any legislation that comes to his desk.”
“But as he reiterated during his State of the Commonwealth address, Virginia’s gun laws are already among the toughest in the nation,” Martinez added. The governor is “asking the General Assembly members to hold accountable those criminals that commit crimes with guns by lengthening and making more severe the penalties in order to keep criminals off the streets.”
House Bill 553 from Del. Chris Obenshain, R-Montgomery, would do just that. It has yet to be reviewed in committee.
While both parties agree they want to reduce instances of gun violence, they often diverge on best methods. Democrats tend to take a preventative route through restrictions while Republicans take a prosecutorial route with increased sentencing.
Democratic measures working their way through the legislature include proposed punishments for leaving handguns visible in unattended vehicles, tampering with serial numbers on firearms and purchasing untraceable parts online to manufacture a gun at home. Other bills propose prohibitions on devices that can make semi-automatic firearms fire like automatic ones and would require locking devices with new gun purchases, for safer storage.
A measure from Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, proposes that people should first obtain a permit before buying a gun. Van Cleave plans to lobby against the measure, which has not yet been referred to a committee.
Some Republicans have sought to undo or adjust existing law.
The Senate courts committee voted 9-6 on Monday to reject Senate Bill 82, sponsored by Sen. John McGuire, R-Goochland, a proposal to include weapons other than firearms as eligible concealed carry items.
The panel also voted 9-6 along party lines to reject Senate Bill 639 from Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Chesterfield, an attempt to repeal Virginia’s red flag law.
In Virginia, firearms can be temporarily seized if someone is subject to a temporary risk order — meaning a magistrate has deemed them at risk of harming themselves or others. With several states having enacted such measures, they are colloquially referred to as “red flag laws.”
Deeds questioned why Sturtevant was seeking to undo Virginia’s law despite having supported such a measure in 2019 that did not pass.
Sturtevant said it was an earlier draft of the bill — which had been adjusted by the time it passed in 2020 — though he had “not done a line by line review” of the two versions. In seeking to change the red flag law, he said he thinks it’s “important to take a look at this” from a Fourth Amendment perspective.
The Fourth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution protects people from having items seized unless there is probable cause associated with warrants.
“We should be affording these individuals due process before the seizure is made,” said Sen. Richard Stuart, R-King George. “You bring them in for a hearing before you take things that belong to them.”
Supporters of the law argued that temporarily taking the firearms from someone who has already been legally deemed at risk was the point of the measure.
On Friday, the House Public Safety Committee voted 12-9 to defeat House Bill 16 by Del. Tom Garrett, R-Buckingham, a bid to lift a prohibition against carrying a concealed weapon on Capitol Square.
Each chamber has until Feb. 13 to pass or defeat bills before surviving measures cross over into the other chamber for consideration. The session is scheduled to end on March 9.
Charlotte Rene Woods (804) 649-6254
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