Technically, the half-dozen gun control laws signed by Gov. Ralph Northam don’t take effect in Virginia until July 1st, but the legal challenges to the new laws are now officially underway. A new lawsuit filed by the Virginia Citizens Defense League and Gun Owners of America on behalf of takes on the state’s new law restricting handgun purchases to one-per-month, unless the purchaser possesses a valid Virginia Concealed Handgun License or falls under several other exemptions.
The suit, filed in Goochland County Circuit Court, seeks an immediate injunction blocking the gun rationing scheme from taking effect while the legal issues are considered by the court. It also seeks a permanent injunction that would enjoin the law from being enforced as a violation of the constitutional rights of Virginia residents.
Interestingly, the brief filed on behalf of plaintiff Valerie Trojan, Brothers N Arms gun shop, the VCDL, and GOA argues that few courts have ever substantively dealt with the issue of gun rationing, though at least one federal court of appeals struck down a one-gun-per-month law passed by Washington, D.C. officials. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the District’s gun rationing scheme wasn’t backed up by any “plausible rationale” for the law.
The District had argued that its expert testimony indicated that placing limits on gun purchases by all might, in turn, limit trafficking in firearms by some. The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument as unsupported by the evidence.
Second, the District argued that “the most effective method of limiting misuse of firearms, including homicide, suicide, and accidental shootings, is to limit the number of firearms present in a home.”
As the plaintiff’s attorneys note, the D.C. Circuit “flatly rejected” that rationale, and said that, “taken to its logical conclusion, that reasoning would justify a total ban on firearms kept in the home,” which, of course, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in the Heller case.
In the current legal challenge, plaintiff Valerie Trojan argues that she would like to purchase more than one handgun in a month from her local gun store, Brothers N Arms. Since she doesn’t have a concealed carry license, and doesn’t want to obtain “government preclearance” from the Virginia State Police that would allow her to purchase more than one handgun in a 30-day period, she’s out of luck and would be in trouble with the law if she attempted to do so.
The suit argues that the new gun rationing law violates the rights of Virginia gun owners under Article 1, Section 13 of the state constitution, which states in part: “That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state, therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” While attorneys say in their initial filing that they also believe the new law violates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the current challenge is based solely on state, not federal, law.
In a statement, GOA’s Erich Pratt noted several objections with the one-gun-a-month law, starting with the fact that Virginia’s violent crime rate remains one of the lowest in the country. Is there really a need for this kind of gun control law, particularly given concerns over how the law would be enforced?
“the enforcement of this law is problematic, as it necessitates a backdoor gun registry. How else would handgun purchases be tracked and counted within a month?”
The GOA/GOF/VDCL compliant additionally argues that this law infringes the right to keep and bear arms in a way that would be unpalatable if applied to other rights, like those protected under the First Amendment. Consider:
The statute is no less an infringement on the right to keep and bear arms than is limiting persons to purchasing one Bible per month would be an infringement on the rights of Virginians under Article I, Section 12 of the Virginia Constitution (analogous to the First Amendment). Indeed, the statute’s restriction is jurisprudentially indistinguishable from arbitrary rationing or numerical limits on any other enumerated right. It would be unfathomable if the General Assembly attempted to place limits on how many times per week a newspaper could be published, how many abortions a woman could receive in a decade, or how many times a court-appointed criminal defense lawyer could be appointed for an indigent defendant facing jailable offenses during a lifetime … to name but a few examples illustrative of this problem. Fortunately, this nation’s founders did not place numerical limits in the Bill of Rights, and those Virginians who ratified Article I, Section 13 did not see fit to add any.”
As a Virginia gun owner, I’m pleased to see this litigation filed, and I hope that the judge in Trojan vs. Settle sees fit to at least grant the temporary injunction while the case makes its way through the court system. Virginia had a similar law on the books that was repealed in 2012 without any harm or foul to the state’s crime rate, so it stands to reason that the impending law could be placed on hold and the status quo remain intact without any issue. Let’s hope the judge agrees.