Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates have approved a bill to ban firearms from the state Capitol, its grounds, and nearby state government buildings, though not before slightly watering down the measure to remove a proposed ban on stun guns and other non-lethal weapons.
On a party line vote of 51-45, delegates on Monday signed off on the bill, while the state Senate could approve its own version of the ban later today. Del. Mark Levine, an anti-gun Democrat who was the chief sponsor of Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed ban on modern sporting rifles, “high capacity” ammunition magazines, and suppressors in the 2020 legislative session, calls the new gun ban the “safe Capitol” bill, though it won’t actually improve anyone’s safety and may very well put concealed carry holders who work at or near the state Capitol building at risk.
The ban could also have an impact on the Lobby Day rallies that have brought thousands of legal gun owners to downtown Richmond in recent years.
Last year, the General Assembly approved a law allowing local governments to ban guns at political rallies and other public events that meet certain criteria. Richmond officials passed an ordinance doing just that, but the law wasn’t enforced against the few dozen armed demonstrators who showed up around the perimeter of the heavily-secured Capitol on Jan. 14.
Richmond police haven’t officially said why they didn’t enforce the temporary gun-free zone set up around Capitol Square earlier this month, but it’s likely that there were concerns over enforcing the law given the fact that there weren’t actually any public events or political rallies scheduled for the downtown area on January 14th. Instead, the Virginia Citizens Defense League encouraged a mobile rally of Second Amendment supporters that drove through the streets around the Capitol building.
Del. Emily Brewer, R-Suffolk, asked Levine what he’d recommend she carry for self-defense while leaving the Capitol if he was removing stun guns as an option.
“Mace and pepper spray is still permitted under this legislation,” Levine said, adding that legislators can also ask the Capitol Police for an escort to their vehicle if they feel unsafe.
The bill was briefly held up on the House floor so it could be amended to apply only to firearms, leaving stun weapons untouched.
The version of the gun ban approved by the House differs slightly from the bill currently on the floor of the state Senate, which imposes a ban only to Capitol Square and not the surrounding streets and sidewalks. The differences are likely to be hashed out in a conference committee, but regardless of what the final version looks like, it looks like there’s going to be some type of gun ban established at the state Capitol in the coming weeks.
I suspect that ban, in whatever form it finally takes, is going to face a legal challenge as soon as there’s standing to file suit, but the move could also have political repercussions for Democrats in the House, who are all up for re-election this November. By barring those with concealed carry licenses from lawfully carrying on city streets and public property, Virginia Democrats have once again demonstrated that their priority is cracking down on legal gun owners while going easy on violent criminals.
That might play well in Del. Levine’s deep-blue district in northern Virginia, but it’s going to be met with opposition in many parts of the state where gun owners rightfully feel like they’re being targeted by lawmakers who should be focused on the increase in violent crime that’s taken place across the Commonwealth over the past year. Instead of ensuring that acts of violence are met with actual consequences, Democrats are pushing to end mandatory minimum sentences, introduce parole and early release for inmates, and abolishing the death penalty in capital murder cases.
Going soft on violent criminals while infringing on the rights of legal gun owners is a public safety disaster in the making, and I hope that it’s a political disaster as well for those lawmakers who are intent on empowering criminals at the expense of law-abiding Virginians.