In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, we’ve seen dozens of lawsuits launched across the country aiming to remove unconstitutional restrictions on our right to keep and bear arms, and the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s Philip Van Cleave isn’t ruling out legal challenges to several statutes approved by the state’s short-lived Democratic majority back in 2020. First, however, Van Cleave says he wants to give lawmakers a chance to undo the damage themselves by repealing the ordinances once the state legislature returns to Richmond in early January.
The group will target Virginia laws passed in 2020 that limit most people from buying more than one handgun a month and allow cities and counties to ban guns in government buildings and grounds. And they want to sink a longstanding law that bans high-capacity magazines in certain jurisdictions.
“A lot of this stuff is going to go down on constitutionality grounds as it should,” said defense league president Philip Van Cleave. “We’re just going to try and put Virginia back to where it should have been over the last 150 years. We’ve lost a lot of our rights.”
The VCDL has already seen some post-Bruen success in the courts, with a state judge recently striking down a local ordinance in the city of Winchester that barred licensed concealed carry in places like public parks and city-permitted events. The judge left intact, however, bans on carrying in all government buildings as well as community centers, and Van Cleave says a statewide lawsuit may be necessary to get these restrictions off the books in other locales as well.
Gun control activists, meanwhile, are trying to put up a brave face; insisting that many of the clearly unconstitutional restrictions they hold dear will still be upheld by the courts in light of the Bruen decision, including the state’s gun-rationing law.
“There’s no such thing in history where you’re limited to the number of guns you can have,” said Van Cleave, whose group tried unsuccessfully to block the law’s reinstatement in 2020. “No such thing. So that’s on the list.”
[UCLA law professor Adam] Winkler agreed the law could be difficult to maintain in Virginia under the Bruen decision. “If we didn’t have any gun laws in the 17 and 1800s limiting people to one gun a month, and I’m not aware of any such laws at the time, then it’s likely to be struck down,” he said.
But [Brady attorney Shiri Lauren] Feldman maintained that the law is constitutional. The fundamental right the Supreme Court recognized in the Bruen case, she said, is the individual’s right to self-defense. Limiting purchases to one per month doesn’t compromise that, she said.
“One handgun a month is not saying you can’t have a handgun,” she said.
In some cases it absolutely is. Let’s say a first-time buyer goes to their local shop to purchase a pistol. They look at the selection, hold a few potential purchases in their hands, and find one they like. When they go to the range for the first time, however, they discover that they really don’t like the trigger pull. Under Virginia state law, while they can sell the gun and try to recoup their loss, they’re not legally eligible to purchase another handgun for another 30 days (unless they possess a concealed carry license, in which case they can buy as many as they want for some reason).
Besides, the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms, not the right to own a single handgun. Would a law that restricts citizens to purchasing one book per month, or giving one political speech per month, or attending church once a month be seen as respecting our First Amendment rights? Absolutely not, and the same holds true when it comes to our right to keep and bear arms, which, by necessity, must also encompass our right to acquire firearms.
Will the VCDL and Virginia gun owners be able to get these recently-enacted restrictions repealed next year? I’m doubtful, but it’s not an impossibility. Democrats hold a one-vote majority in the state Senate, and there are several rural Democratic state senators who are up for re-election next year who might be willing to reverse course if it helps them keep their seat. If not, they’ll have to face an angry electorate in November as well as a judicial system that’s likely to strike down these laws anyway. Let’s hope these lawmakers see the light, but if they don’t the VCDL and Virginia gun owners will be there to make them feel the heat.