In the wake of the mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has set July 9 for a special session of the Virginia legislature to consider new gun safety legislation.
Rising above political polarization
Gun violence, mass shootings, and what to do about them have been incredibly politically polarizing nationally and in Virginia. Calm, rational conversations in which people listen carefully to each other before inflexibly insisting upon their own points of view are rare. That’s a shame.
Sure, partisan politics are involved: Virginia Democrats are trying to take control of the legislature, Virginia Republicans are trying to retain control, and Governor Northam is trying to repair his reputation.
Nevertheless, our elected officials were elected to solve problems. Our tax dollars pay their salaries. We are entitled to a full public discussion, followed by up-or-down votes, on proposed key gun safety legislation because gun violence and mass shootings can kill any of us anytime.
Gun safety legislation that might be introduced by Democrats
Democratic Governor Northam is considering recommending legislation on the subjects discussed below, among others. If he or a Democratic legislator does so, that legislation should receive a full hearing and up-or-down votes on the floor at the special session.
Expand local options to prohibit guns in public buildings
Virginia localities like Arlington have very limited powers to regulate the use of guns. An analysis of the current law is here. Virginia law should be amended to give localities the option to limit the possession of guns in public buildings to only certain categories of owners (e.g., police officers).
Universal background checks
Private sellers of guns in Virginia are not required to conduct universal background checks. This loophole should be closed.
Virginia law should be amended to require private sellers to:
- conduct background checks through a central law enforcement agency that has access to federal and state databases of prohibited purchasers
- maintain records of all firearm transfers for a lengthy period
- report all transfers to state and local law enforcement
A red flag law permits police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves. Even Donald Trump has endorsed red flag laws. Unlike 15 other states, Virginia doesn’t have a red flag law. Virginia law should be amended to add one.
Reporting stolen firearms
Virginia does not require firearm owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm. Virginia law should be amended to require individuals to report to law enforcement the loss or theft of a firearm. Examples of laws like this that have been adopted by other states are available here.
Laws limiting the number of firearms an individual can purchase per month help reduce the number of guns that end up at the scene of a crime. For that reason, Virginia used to have a one-gun-a-month law. But Virginia repealed that law in 2012 at the request of the NRA. That law should be re-enacted.
Assault weapons ban
Virginia’s current legal restrictions on possession and sale of assault weapons are quite limited. Generally, those restrictions only apply to residents under the age of 18 and to non-citizens. Virginia law should be amended to impose additional assault weapons restrictions. Examples of laws like this that other states have adopted are available here.
Gun safety legislation that might be introduced by Republicans
House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) has said that Republicans will propose stronger penalties for those who use guns to commit crimes, including new mandatory minimum penalties. If he or other Republican legislators do introduce such legislation, or any other key gun safety legislation, their proposals also should receive a full hearing and up-or-down floor votes at the special session.
All the key gun safety legislation discussed here deserves full consideration and up-or-down votes on the floor at the special session. Doing nothing shouldn’t be an option.
Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.