Are VA Dems Planning A "Gun Free Zone" On Lobby Day?
AP Photo/Steven Senne

Democrats in Virginia’s House of Delegates approved their rules for the 2020 session on Thursday, including one new provision that is causing some concern from folks I’ve spoken to at the statehouse.

Buried at the bottom of a laundry list of rules for the House, Rule 85 deals with the possession of firearms on the groups of the state capitol. Here’s what it says in its entirety.

Rule 85. It is the policy of the Virginia House of Delegates to take all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of every member, full and part-time employee, page, intern, visitor, and guest of the Virginia House of Delegates. In keeping with this commitment, the House Committee on Rules will establish, by majority vote, a formal policy on the ability of members, staff, guests, and visitors to bring firearms into the those areas under the legal authority of the House of Delegates including, but not limited to, the Capitol, the House Chamber, and the Pocahontas Building. The Committee may amend the policy, which may or may not include a blanket prohibition, from time to time as appropriate. Copies of the approved policy and any changes or amendments thereof will be provided to every member, full and part-time employee, page, and intern of the Virginia House of Delegates and be posted for the members of the public.

The House of Delegates doesn’t control the entire state capitol complex, only the House itself, along with House office spaces. The Senate controls its section of the capitol, and as the Roanoke Times reports, the Senate “adopted rules on Wednesday that did not include any new directives on firearms, so it’s unclear how the policy would be effectively implemented.”

What is clear is that Democrats in the House seem to be laying the groundwork or a future ban on firearms in areas of the capitol under their control, and we could see an even broader push to ban firearms from the capitol complex on January 20th, when thousands of gun owners are expected to be at the capitol for Lobby Day.

For those areas of the capitol not under the direct control of the House or Senate, policies are decided by a joint committee on the rules (comprised of both House and Senate members), and it looks like that committee will be meeting Friday afternoon. The committee could simply try to clear up some of the flawed procedures that the House has put in place, but it could also try to set a broader policy regarding lawful carrying of firearms on the capitol grounds.

I think it would be a big mistake for Virginia Democrats to try to turn the capitol into a “gun free zone” on Lobby Day, for several reasons. First, the policy change would come just a little more than a week before Lobby Day, which doesn’t give much time for word to get about the new policy. I suspect there would still be gun owners who, unaware of the new rules, carry their firearms as they’ve done in the past.

I believe the move would also be rightfully seen as another dig at legal gun owners, which is likely to increase, not defuse the tensions in the state over the push for gun control. Unfortunately, there are a number of politicians at the statehouse who seem content if not happy to turn up the temperature on the already heated rhetoric we’ve seen from some on both sides of the contentious issue.

Gun owners need to remember that it is within the power of the joint committee to set the rules. While it would be a bad idea to ban guns entirely from the capitol complex, including the grounds, it would also be legal for lawmakers to do so. Hopefully the joint rules committee leaves the current rules for carrying at the capitol in place, but at the moment I’m not confident that will be the case.

**UPDATE**

Shortly after posting this story, the Associated Press confirmed that Democrat lawmakers will vote Friday afternoon on a gun ban at the state capitol.

Virginia lawmakers are set to vote Friday on whether to ban guns at the state Capitol.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have set a meeting to vote on new rules that are widely expected to include a proposed new gun ban for the Capitol and a legislative office building.