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Peter’s Take: Virginia Republican Leaders Block Gun Safety Legislation

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On May 31, a gunman killed 12 people and injured 6 more in a Virginia Beach municipal building. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam subsequently called the Virginia legislature back for a July 9 special session to act on a series of gun safety bills. Most of the bills had been under consideration for years.

The Republicans who control our legislature–on a party line vote–successfully passed a motion to adjourn that special session without voting on a single bill:

“Republican leaders adjourned … after only 90 minutes, referring some 60 bills to the state Crime Commission for further study. The legislature is scheduled to reconvene to take the matter back up on Nov. 18 — nearly two weeks after this fall’s elections.”

The Crime Commission is meeting this week.

On July 28, a gunman in Gilroy, California, killed 3 people, wounded at least 15, and then killed himself. On August 3, a gunman in El Paso, Texas killed 22 and wounded 25 more. On August 4, another gunman in Dayton, Ohio killed 9 and wounded 27 in just 32 seconds before he was fatally shot by police .

Virginia Republican legislators are playing Russian roulette with our lives

Our elected officials are 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 can kill any one of us at any time.

This doesn’t mean that all the 60 some bills that were sent to the Crime Commission for further “study” should have been passed on July 9 nor that any single bill sponsored by Democrats was perfect as filed. Of course not. But where is the Republican sense of urgency? Where is the Republican leadership to negotiate some compromises to enable meaningful action?

Sadly, what we see too often from Virginia Republican legislative leaders after every new mass shooting is a parade of excuses like:

  • “this particular bill wouldn’t have prevented that particular shooting”
  • “it’s too early to be talking about legislation while people are grieving”
  • “a determined shooter can’t be stopped”
  • “let’s wait to see what the federal government does”

No, now is the time for Virginia to act.

Some examples of Virginia gun safety legislation that should be enacted now

  • Expanded 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;to maintain records of all firearms transfers for a lengthy period;and to report all transfers to state and local law enforcement.
  • Red flag law: 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 themselves or others. Even Donald Trump has endorsed red flag laws. Virginia House of Delegates member Rip Sullivan (D. 48), who represents major portions of Arlington, has repeatedly introduced a red-flag bill. Unlike 17 other states, Virginia doesn’t have a red flag law. Virginia law should be amended to include one.
  • One-a-month limits: 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.

Conclusion

These and other excellent examples and legislative recommendations are discussed here (Testimony of Leanne Fox, gun owner, Crozet, Virginia). All these key gun safety measures should be enacted in Virginia now.

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.

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