Virginia 2A advocate scrutinized for offering pro-gun bills

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Now that Republicans are in control of all statewide offices in Virginia, along with the legislature’s House of Delegates, many news outlets across the state are returning to the kind of watchdog journalism that’s been on hiatus for the last few years. I can’t recall any in depth coverage of the delegates and state senators who were pushing to ban modern sporting rifles and commonly-owned magazines back in 2020, for instance, but a newly-elected Republican is under the microscope for authoring several pro-gun bills, which the Virginian-Pilot newspaper suggests is a conflict of interest, even if there’s nothing improper about it under state law.

Tim Anderson, a Virginia Beach criminal defense attorney and gun shop owner who is beginning his first term in the Virginia House of Delegates, has filed four bills that could ease regulations on gun shops or make it easier for people to buy guns throughout the commonwealth.

A gun shop owner writing legislation that impacts his own business may seem to raise questions about conflicts of interest, but Virginia’s ethics rules allow lawmakers to write bills that affect their industry.

“Part of the reason you have a citizen legislature is so you have people from all walks of life and social and professional backgrounds come together and forge the best solutions,” said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

As long as Anderson’s proposals impact all gun shops in the commonwealth and not just Defensive Tactics of Virginia, which he opened in 2015, he is in line with the spirit of a citizen legislature, ethics experts said. He’s also not alone; politicians on both sides of the aisle in Virginia write bills that affect their professions.

“You can legislate in your very areas where you work your day job as long as you don’t benefit where others can’t,” said Quentin Kidd, dean of the College of Social Sciences at Christopher Newport University.

In other words, there’s no story here. Anderson isn’t authoring bills that give his gun store special tax credits or punish gun shops that he doesn’t own. As the Virginian-Pilot itself admits, the legislation he’s proposing is pretty standard stuff for Republicans; things like repealing the state’s one-gun-a-month firearms rationing scheme and removing the $50 application fee for concealed carry licenses.

This is a ridiculous premise for a news story, and I’m glad to see Anderson deliver some pushback to the paper.

Anderson said most gun shop customers already have concealed weapons permits, so allowing non-permitted customers to purchase more than one gun per month would have little impact on his sales.

Anderson pointed out that he is a defense attorney as well, and he has proposed a bill that decriminalizes first offense concealed carry violations and another that allows police to charge “improper driving,” rather than reckless driving. These are bills he says would hurt defense lawyers’ bottom lines.

“Am I not allowed to propose any bill that affects lawyers?” Anderson said. “Or is the story only relevant because it has to do with guns?”

Yeah, pretty much. This is a lame attempt to paint Anderson, not as an unwitting tool of the gun lobby, but a grifter more interested in using his legislative position to pad his pockets instead of representing the people. The only problem for the Virginian-Pilot is that they don’t have any evidence at all that’s the case, the experts they quote don’t see an issue with Anderson’s legislation, and there’s nothing in Virginia law that would prevent lawmakers from offering up bills dealing with an area of their own interest or expertise.

If the Virginian-Pilot is looking for something really juicy to investigate, I’d suggest starting with the Pardon and Parole Board scandal that’s been largely swept under the rug by Democrats, or perhaps a deep dive into how much violent crime has increased since Democrats imposed a half-dozen gun control bills on Virginians two years ago. Something tells me, though, that stories like those just aren’t that compelling to the Virginian-Pilot’s journalists, at least compared with their attempt to portray a pro-gun lawmaker’s pro-gun bills as something shady and unethical.