Attempt to repeal Virginia gun control laws dies in state Senate

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Which, unfortunately, is going to be where a lot of GOP dreams are going to meet a similar fate this year. Republicans in the commonwealth of Virginia captured all statewide offices and took control of the House of Delegates in last November’s elections, but Democrats still hold a one-vote majority in the state Senate, which is enough to give them control of Senate committees.

That means that until 2023, when every seat in the Senate will be up for grabs, anti-gun Democrats are likely going to be able to keep their new gun control laws in place, to the detriment of our individual rights and collective public safety.

The must-pass Senate Judiciary Committee shot down multiple bills that sought to reverse laws passed in 2020, when Democrats controlled every branch of state government. The panel also rejected proposals to make it easier to concealed carry and create exceptions for permit-holders in gun-free zones.

The let down for gun rights advocates is just the latest example of the Senate–still narrowly controlled by Democrats–spoiling GOP priorities after Republicans won back statewide offices and the House of Delegates.

Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave said getting rid of a law empowering local governments to pass firearm bans in various public spaces was their top priority in the 2022 session. In an email sent out to supporters, VCDL said 16 out of 194 localities have created gun-free zones since the bill took effect, forming “a web of laws that can trip up gun owners as they move around in the Commonwealth.”

Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) carried the bill to repeal the law and strip localities of that authority.

“The bad guys with the guns are not going to follow these ordinances,” Chase said. “I think that’s a very naive view to think that if you take the guns away from the good guys that it is going to reduce crime, as we have seen in the City of Richmond.”

The legislation died on a party-line vote of 9-6. Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) was among those opposed.

In defense of keeping the decision-making power with localities, Morrissey said, “Those closest to the governed, govern best.”

If Democrats truly believed that then they’d allow localities to pass their own gun laws that are less restrictive than state law too, instead of only allowing local ordinances that are more onerous than those already enshrined in state statutes. That’s not how their idea of “local control” works, however.

As Phillip Van Cleave of the VCDL pointed out to members in a recent email alert, since the city of Alexandria, Virginia imposed its own local gun bans, gun-related crimes have increased by 40%. In Richmond, which banned guns in parks (among other locations), there were more than 90 homicides in 2021 compared to 61 in 2019, which was the last year before the city’s local restrictions took effect.

Speaking to the committee on zoom, a member of Moms Demand Action said the policy gives her peace of mind. She said, “That firearms are not allowed in these places, along with libraries, rec centers and other sensitive spaces, makes our family and our community safer from gun violence.”

If this policy gives anyone peace of mind, they’re deluding themselves. Not only has violent crime increased since the state’s firearm preemption law was weakened, the worst mass shootings in state history have happened in gun-free zones; the campus of Virginia Tech and the Virginia Beach city hall, where employees were prohibited from lawfully carrying or possessing firearms. That didn’t stop the killer who targeted his co-workers, but it did prevent those who were concerned about their own safety from being able to protect themselves. Unless these “sensitive places” have taken steps to harden their security, declaring them firearm-free doesn’t actually do anything to make patrons, customers, or employees any safer. In fact, I’d argue it puts them at greater risk.

Meanwhile, Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) is proposing new penalties on so-called ghost guns, despite an uphill battle in a Republican-controlled House. A similar proposal failed to pass last year even with Democratic majorities in both chambers.

Ghost guns are often created using 3D printers or plastic kits. Ebbin said they are intentionally undetectable to metal detectors and don’t have serial numbers.

“We know of some horrific mass shootings that have been perpetuated with what are called ghost guns and they are being sold in Virginia over the internet. We need to see that all guns have a serial number. Responsible gun owners should not object to that and even hobbyists can buy frames, one of the main components of the gun, with a serial number already on it, ” Ebbin said.

Ebbin’s bill was not voted on by the committee on Wednesday but it’s expected to be rescheduled.

The one silver lining here? If the repeal of the Democrats’ recently enacted gun control laws isn’t going to happen thanks to their slim majority in the Senate, the same is true for any new gun control proposals, which are likely to be squashed in the Republican-controlled House.

If Virginians are going to actually get rid of the gun control laws put in place when Democrats captured complete control of state government three years ago, gun owners are going to have to remain just as engaged and motivated to take back the Senate in 2023 as we were to take back statewide offices and the House in 2021.