VA AG And His Moving Gun-Free Zones

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For better or worse, there will probably always be places you can’t carry your guns. Government buildings seem to be a favorite location for gun-free zones, to be sure, but there will be others as well. We don’t have to like it, we just have to live with it.

Oh, we can fight against these, and we should. I just don’t know that we’ll be successful with that effort.

Regardless, though, such zones should be stable and relatively uniform across a given jurisdiction. You should know that it’s off-limits and that it will be off-limits.

But many states also list polling places as off-limits. Since most are found in schools and churches–gun-free zones in many states–it’s not a huge issue. Still, it can trip you up if you’re not careful, hence part of the problem.

What about when it’s not election day? It seems the attorney general of Virginia thinks he can expand just where you can’t carry.

Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly passed and Governor Ralph Northam (D) signed HB 2081. The legislation altered VA Code Ann. § 24.2-604 to make it a crime “to knowingly possess any firearm… within 40 feet of any building, or part thereof, used as a polling place.” Violating this provision is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year imprisonment, up to a $2,500 fine, or both.

A reasonable person might read the new § 24.2-604 and take care not to exercise their Right-to-Carry while voting or near the local voting precincts on election day. However, by Herring’s lights, the new prohibition is far broader in both space and time.

The attorney general was asked the following by an Albemarle County election official. (Albemarle is the county surrounding the city of Charlottesville, which is home to the University of Virginia.)

[D]uring ‘early voting,’ prior to the date of a general, special, or primary election, are central absentee voter precincts, voter satellite offices, and offices of general registrars ‘polling places,’ and thus subject to the firearm prohibition?

Never one to pass up an opportunity to curtail the rights of law-abiding gun owners, Herring responded,

It is my opinion that firearms are prohibited at central absentee voter precincts, voter satellite offices, and offices of general registrars where they are the designated locations for early voting in the locality, in the same way that firearms are prohibited at polling places when the polls are open on Election Day.

Herring noted that the 40-foot rule applied here as well, covering things like entrances and so on, though not necessarily the entire building.

The problem, though, is that apparently, early voting precincts can shift from election to election. There’s no consistency, so someone can carry a firearm somewhere fine during one election cycle, then break the law doing the same thing the very next election cycle, only for it to be legal again the one after that.

This is a huge problem, in my book.

It’s bad enough to have gun-free zones at all. We know they don’t stop bad actors from carrying guns, only the good guys who don’t represent a problem in the first place.

Yet by creating an exclusion zone around these places and having them be variable from one election to the next, what Virginia has essentially done is made it virtually unnavigable for the law-abiding gun owner.

Of course, if that wasn’t a feature, they’re damn sure not going to consider it a bug. Maybe a “happy accident,” in a totalitarian Bob Ross kind of way.

The problem is that it won’t have the impact they think. Most gun carriers are still going to carry. They’ll just shrug at the idea that they may run into a gun-free zone in the course of their day and not really worry about it otherwise.

Law-abiding people are law-abiding only until the laws become too onerous for them to continue to obey them. Try to make it difficult, and they’ll just start ignoring you. That’s what’s probably going to happen here.