As we get closer to Virginia’s Lobby Day on Monday, I’m seeing more and more hyberbolic posts on social media about how Virginia is now under the thumb of a tyrant, misinformation about non-existent bills being signed into law, and other attempts to gain attention or stoke people’s fear and anger.
To say this isn’t helpful is an understatement. We’re currently just a few weeks into Virginia’s legislative session, and the fact is, not one bad bill has become a bad law. Nothing’s been signed by the governor yet. In fact, nothing has even gotten to his desk at the moment. We’ve had three gun control bills pass out of the Senate, but the House hasn’t even had a single committee hearing on any gun control legislation. In fact, Virginia gun owners are actually having an impact on the debate in the legislature, thanks to the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement that’s swept across the state and has led to tens of thousands of engaged citizens contacting their lawmakers to oppose Ralph Northam’s gun control agenda.
I don’t believe that Northam has the authority to institute his gun ban in Capitol Square, but unfortunately the Virginia State Supreme Court didn’t reach the merits of the case brought by VCDL and GOA. Instead, the court ruled that the groups didn’t file the necessary paperwork with the Court, and refused the petition, leaving open the question of whether or not the governor has overstepped his constitutional authority.
As for Northam’s gun control legislation, here’s where things actually stand right now.
Ban on so-called “assault firearms,” magazines over ten rounds, suppressors, and trigger activators
There’s actually good news to report here. Sen. Dick Saslaw’s orginal ban on so-called “assault firearms” and hardware was killed in a Senate committee last week. Friday was the filing deadline for new legislation, and no new bill was introduced in the state Senate. That leaves HB 961 as the sole vehicle for a ban on the most commonly sold rifle in the country today, along with bans on commonly owned magazines and suppressors.
HB 961 contains a “grandfather clause” permitting current gun owners to maintain possession of their firearms, but only if they register themselves and their guns with the state. It’s an awful bill, and it would be an absolute infringement on the right to keep and bear arms, but it hasn’t even had a hearing yet. What’s more, at least four Virginia senate Democrats say they’re not on board with the language they’ve seen so far. Simply put, right now there aren’t enough votes to pass this bill in the Senate, even if it were to pass the House.
Obviously that can change, and we need to continue to lobby our lawmakers, particularly those four Democrat senators opposed to the current language, to encourage them to reject this bill that would turn the vast majority of the state’s legal gun owners into felons for simply maintaining possession of their legally owned firearms, magazines, and suppressors.
Red Flag Law
Democrats passed SB 240 out of committee, but only after completely gutting the original language. The state Senate was scheduled to vote on SB 240 this week, but pulled the bill from consideration on two consecutive days. There have also been a couple of substitute bills offered up on the floor of the Senate, but rather than vote on those, the Senate chose to pass by the legislation.
That suggests that SB 240 also doesn’t have the votes to pass, at least in its current form. Rather than engage in an intra-party fight over the bill on the Senate floor, however, Democrats want to try to hash out the details in caucus. Interestingly enough, I’m hearing that one of the biggest opponents of the bill at the moment among Democrats is Sen. Joe Morrissey, a longtime supporter of gun control. Before he was disbarred, Morrissey was a criminal defense attorney, and my sources say he has problems with the lack of due process in the bill. Morrissey himself has said the bill needs some work, though he didn’t get more specific than that.
A bill limiting handgun purchases to one per month was approved by the Virginia State Senate earlier this week, but not before the original legislation was amended to make it slightly less awful. SB 69 isn’t nice at all, but if it becomes law then Virginia will revert back to laws that were in place from the mid 1990s through 2012. The bill was amended to exempt concealed carry licensees from the law, which may have the ironic and unintended effect of increasing the number of Virginians exercising their right to bear arms. This bill is now in a House committee.
Universal Background Checks
Another bill that has passed the Senate, but not without major revisions that have made gun control groups unhappy. Democrat Chap Petersen was successful in passing a substitute measure in the Senate Public Safety committee that dramatically changed the bill.
Before the changes SB 70 would have criminalized most private transfers and sales of firearms unless a background check was conducted beforehand. Now the bill only applies to sales of firearms, but there are no exemptions for family members or others you might now. This means that you could give a gun to your brother for Christmas without having to use an FFL to conduct a background check, but if you sold him a rifle before deer season you would have to visit a gun store and have them transfer the firearm.
As you can imagine, this bill is nearly impossible to enforce, whether we’re talking about the original language or Petersen’s substitute. I suspect this bill will be challenged in court if it’s signed by Gov. Northam, but I also expect we’ll see few if any arrests for violating this law even if it goes into effect.
SB 70 is currently in the House awaiting a committee vote.
This is probably the worst of the bills that have passed out of the state Senate to date. SB 35 would begin to gut Virginia’s firearm preemption laws and allow for localities to ban lawfully carried firearms at permitted events, as well as ban gun shows in government owned buildings or on property owned or leased by localities. It would also allow for cities, towns, and counties in Virginia to sue firearms manufacturers.
This bill is also awaiting a vote in a House committee. I suspect it will eventually pass in some form and be signed by the governor. It may also face a court challenge, but it’s important to remember that the bill empowers localities to set some new gun control laws, but it doesn’t require them to do so. This is where Virginia’s 130+ Second Amendment Sanctuary localities come into play, as well as the local gun owners that turned out by the tens of thousands to urge local lawmakers to stand in support of their rights. That same grassroots network can and will be mobilized to oppose any proposed changes to local gun control laws.
Other Gun Related Bills
There are lots of other firearm-related bills that may begin moving in the coming weeks like HB 9, which would establish a civil penalty for not reporting a firearm that is lost or stolen, HB 567 targeting the NRA range with closure, SB 353 restricting where outdoor ranges can operate, and HB 899, which would ban all non-lead ammunition in Virginia. None of these bills have been scheduled for a committee hearing at this point, but we’re certainly keeping a close eye on all of them.
Where Things Stand Right Now
Clearly the civic engagement of gun owners in Virginia is helping to mitigate some of the worst of these bills. We are having a positive impact on some pieces of legislation, and the Democrats are far from unified in what their gun control bills should look like. It’s one thing to cut a campaign ad promising “common sense gun safety measures.” It’s another thing entirely to actually write a piece of legislation that isn’t a total mess.
Gun owners in the state of Virginia need to keep contacting their lawmakers to politely but firmly urge them to reject Northam’s gun control agenda. Now is a time for civic engagement, not civil war. Even if the worst of these bills become horrible laws, they can and will be challenged in court. Virginia gun owners need to play the long game right now. We are making a difference at the state legislature, but that will likely change if there is any violence during Monday’s Lobby Day.
I will be there, alongside tens of thousands of my fellow Virginians, to peacefully lobby lawmakers and to encourage gun owners in the state to continue to stay engaged, informed, and active in the political process. If that’s not why you’re coming, stay home. If you’re attending the Lobby Day activities and you see individuals trying to start trouble, let the police know. Don’t try to handle it yourself. Walk away and talk to the authorities. Let’s all do what we can to ensure that Lobby Day is a peaceful and powerful gathering of Virginians and those who support their lobbying efforts to defeat Ralph Northam’s anti-gun agenda.