I’ll admit up front that any improvements will incredibly modest, but given the fact that Democrats hold a slim majority in the state Senate while Republicans have a similarly tenuous hold on the House, it’s somewhat surprising that any gun-related measures are making progress this year. The fact that the bills finding bipartisan support aren’t gun control measures is also a positive development, though Democrats have still managed to kill a number of proposals that would have improved the Second Amendment rights of gun owners; something that Republicans will be sure to remind voters of this November when every seat in the General Assembly is up for re-election.
So where are the parties finding common ground? A bill that would give Virginians a $300 tax credit on the purchase of a firearm safety device was approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate last week after the House passed it on a 99-1 vote. The bill garnered the support of both gun control groups and 2A activists, and though Gov. Glenn Youngkin has not officially weighed in, he’s almost certain to sign the legislation in the near future.
Another bill that’s drawing bipartisan support is HB 2467, which would create a religious exemption to the use of photo ID for firearm background checks; a policy that would mainly benefit the growing number of Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities in the state.
Del. Chris Runion, R-Rockingham, told a Democratic-controlled Senate committee Monday he was advocating for the exemption on behalf of religious groups mostly located in the Shenandoah Valley that have a “quiet voice” and rarely vote or participate in government affairs.
“These folks are sportsmen and they own firearms to protect their livestock,” Runion said.
Virginia residents without photo IDs used to be able to buy firearms from private sellers at gun shows, Runion said. That access was essentially shut off, he added, when the state tightened its laws in 2020 to close the so-called gun show loophole by making background checks mandatory for private person-to-person sales as well as purchases from federally licensed gun shops.
Under the proposed law, gun buyers covered by the exemption would still go through the regular background check process overseen by the Virginia State Police, but a photo-less ID card would satisfy the identification requirement. A representative for the State Police testified Monday that the lack of a photo wouldn’t impair the agency’s ability to perform background checks.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill 15-0, a tally indicating the proposal has a good shot at passing the full Senate later this week. The legislation passed the GOP-led House of Delegates 73-27 earlier this month, making it a rare Republican-sponsored gun bill drawing Democratic support.
These communities aren’t just located in the Shenandoah Valley. In the past five years there’s been a major migration from Pennsylvania and Ohio to central Virginia, including the county where I live. Horse-drawn buggies are now a common sight on our local roads, as are the growing proliferation of Amish grocery stores and other small businesses. My neighbors, who moved here about two years ago, just opened up their own grocery last week and are currently building a hardware store right alongside. I’ve had a firsthand opportunity to see how they navigate today’s world while remaining true to their faith, but I’d honestly not considered the fact that, right now its impossible for them to legally buy a firearm in the state.
Again, it’s a rather modest bill, unless of course you’re one of those folks unable to purchase a gun. And Senate Democrats killed off several other innocuous proposals even while advancing HB 2467.
One of the rejected bills would have exempted highway rest areas from a law banning guns at state-owned facilities. Supporters of the legislation said it would let motorists, particularly those on the road late at night, defend themselves as they travel through Virginia. Opponents said they didn’t support “chipping away” at the law by starting to create carveouts allowing guns in more places.
Similarly, the committee blocked a Republican bill that would have created an exemption to the gun ban on Capitol Square for people with concealed carry permits.
I’d say removing the designation of rest stops as “gun-free zones” is more about complying with the Bruen decision than anything else, and if lawmakers won’t repeal that “sensitive place” it might take a lawsuit instead. I’d be happy to join as one of the plaintiffs in a case like that.
Similarly, the concealed carry ban on Capitol Square outside the state capitol building is also far too broadly defined; encompassing nearby streets, parking structures, and any and all government offices as well. A ban on firearms inside the building might hold up to a court challenge, but it’s doubtful that barring lawful concealed carry from the public spaces outside would fare well under the Bruen test.
If Republicans can take back control of the state Senate this November we’ll have a good chance of undoing some of these recent additions to Virginia gun laws, as well as passing new legislation aimed at strengthening our right to keep and bear arms. Republicans swept the last statewide elections in 2021, in large part because of massive turnout in rural parts of the state, and I don’t think those gun owners have gone away or are asleep to to the threat posed by Democrats if they retake the House and keep their Senate majority. The state Senate approved a ban on “assault weapons” just a few weeks ago, and that’s just one of multiple anti-2A bills Democrats have passed this session. The gun owners I know are both well aware of and pissed off about these attempted infringements on their fundamental rights, and just as they were two years ago, I think they’re once again going to be one of the deciding factors on Election Day this November.