A legal challenge to Gov. Ralph Northam’s “one-gun-a-month” law was turned aside by a judge in Goochland County on Thursday afternoon, making it likely that the new gun control scheme will go into effect on July 1st. Judge Timothy Sanner said in his ruling that the commonwealth of Virginia has a substantial interest in limiting gun trafficking, and that the new law limiting handgun purchases to one per month (with a few exceptions) doesn’t violate Article I, Section 13 of the state constitution.
During oral arguments, attorney David Browne, who represented local gun enthusiast Valerie Trojan in the lawsuit against Col. Gary Settle, Superintendent of the Virginia State Police, said the handgun purchase limit violated both the U.S. and Virginia Constitution under the right to bear arms. He further suggested the limit was an arbitrary numerical limit and compared it to limiting the purchase of a bible to once a month.
“It’s the right to bear arms: plural,” Browne, who works for the Richmond-based DC-based Spiro and Brown, said.
But Toby Heytens, Solicitor General for the state, argued the law, which allows additional purchases under certain conditions, amounted more to an enhanced background check. He also noted the lack of court intervention in similar laws, saying “no other court in the country” had considered ruling on such purchase limits.
And the nature of the purchase makes a difference as well, he argued. Heytens said it was not a prohibition limiting access to firearms, but rather a “modest restriction on commercial sales of firearms.”
Modest in practice, perhaps, but not in theory. As attorney David Browne noted, this limit is indeed arbitrary. What if next year the legislature comes back and hands Gov. Northam a bill limiting handgun purchases to one per year, instead of one per month? What if the law is expanded to include long guns and not just handguns?
Of course that’s an argument better suited for the broader legal challenge against the new law, rather than the request to grant an injunction barring the law from going into effect. Phillip Van Cleave, head of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, noted that there was a high bar set in order for the judge to grant the requested injunction, but he’s vowing to continue the legal challenge even without the injunction.
Van Cleave is also involved in a second lawsuit that aims to block a new universal background check law. Filed in the similarly rural Lynchburg County Circuit Court, the challenge is still awaiting a hearing date.
A call to the courthouse Wednesday suggested the case might not get heard before the law goes into effect next week, but a judge has since been assigned: Judge Patrick Yeatts.
Van Cleave and friends already know Yeatts to be an ally; the judge granted an injunction blocking Governor Ralph Northam’s executive order which closed gun ranges during the early days of the outbreak of Covid-19.
These legal challenges are likely to be joined by several others once Northam’s package of a half-dozen gun control bills goes into effect on July 1st. In addition to the background check and gun rationing measures, gun owners will have to deal with the state’s new “red flag” law; changes to the state’s concealed carry licensing process; and the establishment of new local restrictions on the possession of legally owned firearms on government-owned property.