An Open Letter To Virginia Republican Legislators

Dear Delegates and Senators,

The legislative session kicking off on January 8th in Virginia is likely to be the most important session of your political careers, even though you hold little to no actual legislative power. Some of you represent suburban districts and narrowly won re-election. You’re missing some colleagues who were defeated in their districts, thanks in part to Michael Bloomberg’s millions of dollars in campaign spending across the state.

Some of you may be thinking it’s the safe move politically to support a few of the more popular (at least according to polling) gun control measures like “universal background checks” or “red flag” laws. Some of you may even honestly believe that they could be effective at reducing violent crime while protecting the rights of Virginians.

With all due respect, I think you’re wrong, and here’s why. In short, universal background check laws don’t lead to more background checks, and violent crime has continued to increase in states like Colorado after the law was put in place. Given the zeal with which your Democrat colleagues introduced gun bans like SB 16, I think the state’s gun owners have a reasonable concern about attempts to use a universal background check law as a back door registry. It’s a legitimately bad bill that isn’t worth supporting.

If you really want to give people a way to check and ensure that the person they’re selling a firearm to is a legal buyer, I strongly recommend you read this piece by Kareem Shaya at Open Source Defense on how to set up a background check system that would alleviate the concerns of gun owners while providing a way to ensure the person buying your gun was legally allowed to own it. I strongly suggest that instead of backing Northam’s universal background check law, you offer up something that works for both sides. You can introduce bills up to January 17th, which doesn’t give you much time but is doable given the talent on your legislative teams.

As to the red flag law we’ve seen proposed, there is an absurdly low standard of review for the judge, a two-week long period where someone can be denied their right to keep and bear arms before they ever get to present their side of the story to a judge, and there’s absolutely no mental health aspect to the bill, not even when a judge decides that someone poses a substantial risk to themselves or others. Instead, that person’s guns are taken from them, while they are left with their pills, their knives, car keys and gasoline.

A much more honest approach is to try to actually take on the crisis in mental health that have in Virginia. It’s not just the relatively small number of people who would be “red flagged” that we should be thinking about. It’s the more than 1,000 Virginians who take their lives every year. It’s every life lost to suicide, not just those who die from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

As the debate over red flag laws takes place in the legislature, you will likely hear that Indiana and Connecticut saw their gun-related suicide rates drop after red flag laws were put in place. What you are not likely to hear is that even though that was the case, non-gun related suicides spiked at such a high rate that in both states the overall suicide rate actually increased. We shouldn’t be spending our time trying to make people kill themselves in a different way. We need to be working to keep them alive.

While I truly believe this is a much more effective way of addressing background checks and mental health, I also believe it makes good political sense. You’ve undoubtably seen the poll of Virginia that showed Donald Trump beating every Democrat running with the exception of Joe Biden. You’ve undoubtably seen (or at least heard of) the hundreds if not thousands of people who’ve shown up for their county supervisors and city council meetings in support of their Second Amendment rights. What we’re witnessing now is something unlike anything you or I have ever seen in our lifetimes. This isn’t being directed by the NRA or the VCDL. This is a movement started and carried on by average Virginians, many of whom had very little interest in politics until they learned too late about the Democrats’ gun control agenda. Yes, it is a damn shame that we didn’t see this level of engagement in November. With all due respect, if you’re still bitter, you need to get over it.

More importantly, use it. You have this incredible grassroots movement that is springing to life in a presidential election year. Don’t squander that or try to squelch the movement by trying to triangulate on this issue. Remember your oath to the constitution of the United States and that of the state of Virginia. Give them something to fight for. Give them a reason to stay motivated. Give them a reason to stay involved.

That’s where those of you who who are Second Amendment stalwarts of the legislature come in. I’m asking you to help your colleagues steer the course, but I’m also asking you fight like hell every step of the way. Point out the hypocrisy of Governor Northam touting himself as a criminal justice reformer while planning to put more Virginians in prison for exercising their civil rights. Ask Democrats concerned about “overpolicing” what they think is going to happen when their gun control bills start getting enforced, primarily in deep blue cities against young men of color. Please ask Dan Helmer why a “gun safety” advocate would want to shut down gun ranges and make it harder for people to train with their firearms.

Please keep up the pressure. I can tell you that no Virginia gun owner is expecting a miracle, but we are expecting you to fight like hell. Do that and you’ll see these engaged voters stay engaged, and not just this year. Don’t and many of them will stay home, not only in 2020 but in 2021 as well.

I wish you all the very best in your efforts to defend freedom this session, and in the elections in November as well.