Se­nate panel ad­vances Northam-backed gun bills

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY JUSTIN MAT­TINGLY Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch

In the first fight over gun rights in the new-look Gen­eral As­sem­bly, Democrats on Mon­day ad­vanced sev­eral gun con­trol mea­sures.

The Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee en­dorsed a one-hand­gun-a-month limit, uni­ver­sal back­ground checks, a “red flag” law and giv­ing mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials more lo­cal author­ity on guns. The bills now head to the full Se­nate.

All four ideas ap­proved Mon­day are part of the Northam ad­min­is­tra­tion’s eight-part con­trol pack­age. Be­sides those eight, which in­clude ad­di­tional mea­sures such as a re­quire­ment to re­port lost and stolen firearms and ban­ning peo­ple with a re­strain­ing or­der

against them from pos­sess­ing a firearm, the ad­min­is­tra­tion isn’t tak­ing a po­si­tion on other gun con­trol bills.

“For the first time in decades, com­mon sense gun safety mea­sures are fi­nally ad­vanc­ing in the Vir­ginia leg­is­la­ture,” Northam tweeted af­ter the com­mit­tee’s meet­ing. “This is the first step in the process — Vir­gini­ans are de­mand­ing real ac­tion on gun vi­o­lence, and they are watch­ing.”

The com­mit­tee, meet­ing in a room evenly split with pro­po­nents and op­po­nents of gun con­trol, ap­proved each mea­sure in 9-5 party-line votes. Some in the au­di­ence wore yel­low “Back­ground checks save lives” stick­ers while oth­ers wore or­ange “Guns save lives” stick­ers.

The com­mit­tee’s en­dorse­ments come af­ter Democrats on Fri­day banned guns in the state Capi­tol and the nearby Poc­a­hon­tas Build­ing, a move that led to long lines to gain en­try into the build­ings Mon­day morn­ing.

The one-hand­gun-a-month law was in place from 1993 un­til 2012, when then-Gov. Bob McDon­nell signed a re­peal law. Pro­po­nents say it would help limit the num­ber of guns that end up on the black mar­ket and used in crimes in other cities, such as New York.

“This leg­is­la­tion would help to cur­tail hand­gun traf­fick­ing,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hamp­ton, pa­tron of Se­nate Bill 69.

Op­po­nents said the bill lim­its law-abid­ing ci­ti­zens’ Sec­ond Amend­ment rights.

“In­di­vid­u­als should not be lim­ited in the amount of firearms they choose to de­fend them­selves and their fam­ily with,” said D.J. Spiker, the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion’s Vir­ginia state di­rec­tor.

The panel also ad­vanced a mea­sure on uni­ver­sal back­ground checks, just not in its orig­i­nal form.

The com­mit­tee backed Sen. Louise Lu­cas’ Se­nate Bill 70, but sub­sti­tuted lan­guage to say the back­ground checks would apply only to gun sales and not trans­fers, a change Lu­cas and the Northam ad­min­is­tra­tion op­posed.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fair­fax City, who pro­posed the new lan­guage, said he was open to re­vis­it­ing it.

“This is the be­gin­ning of a process,” he said.

The bill that met the most ob­jec­tions — gun pro­po­nents in the au­di­ence crit­i­cized all four mea­sures — was a red flag law. Se­nate Bill 240 pro­posed by Sen. Ge­orge Barker, D-Fair­fax, would re­move firearms, through a le­gal war­rant, from a per­son deemed “a sub­stan­tial risk of in­jury to him­self or oth­ers” through what is called an “ex­treme risk pro­tec­tive or­der.” Op­po­nents of the bill say it could lead to un­con­sti­tu­tional searches of homes.

“If this law is to pass, it’ll be a time when you’ve not been ac­cused of a crim­i­nal of­fense, you’ve not in­vited some­body to come to your house, there’s been no al­le­ga­tion of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, and whether you live in ru­ral Vir­ginia or down­town Rich­mond or down­town Nor­folk, the govern­ment will come in and be able to search your house and you’ve not been ac­cused — or al­leged — to have com­mit­ted any crim­i­nal of­fense,” said Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover. “Ev­ery Vir­ginian should be afraid.”

Red flag laws are in place in 17 states.

Din­wid­die County res­i­dent Richard Pyle called the bill “an af­front to ev­ery­thing our Bill of Rights stands for.” Din­wid­die, along with 124 other coun­ties, cities and towns in the state, has de­clared it­self a “Sec­ond Amend­ment sanc­tu­ary,” some­thing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark Her­ring said has no le­gal ef­fect.

The fi­nal bill in the pack­age taken up Mon­day was a mea­sure by Sen. Scott Surov­ell, DFair­fax. Se­nate Bill 35, which in­cor­po­rated sim­i­lar bills pro­posed by Sen. John Ed­wards, DRoanoke, as part of Northam’s pack­age, would al­low in­di­vid­ual lo­cal­i­ties to ban guns in pub­lic build­ings and at parks and per­mit­ted events.

“We sup­port the abil­ity of lo­cal­i­ties to pass rea­son­able con­sti­tu­tional re­stric­tions on firearms,” said Pub­lic Safety Sec­re­tary Brian Mo­ran.

The is­sue was cen­tral lead­ing up to the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Char­lottesvill­e, when pro­test­ers were al­lowed to carry guns.

Op­po­nents of the mea­sure, how­ever, said it could en­dan­ger law-abid­ing ci­ti­zens who wouldn’t be able to pro­tect them­selves.

“The last thing we need are more gun-free zones,” said Culpeper County Sher­iff Scott Jenk­ins.

At the pa­tron’s re­quest, the com­mit­tee on Mon­day also struck an as­sault weapons ban in­tro­duced by Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fair­fax.

Saslaw’s Se­nate Bill 16 — which was not among the bills Northam backs — didn’t in­clude a “grand­fa­ther” pro­vi­sion for cur­rent own­ers of weapons deemed as­sault weapons, prompt­ing con­cerns from gun­rights sup­port­ers about con­fis­ca­tion. Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexan­dria, is the House spon­sor of the leg­is­la­tion the gov­er­nor backs, House Bill 961.

Gun con­trol sup­port­ers praised the bills the com­mit­tee backed Mon­day. Oth­ers said the mea­sures were “ill-con­ceived.”

“We are one step closer to a Vir­ginia where the threat of gun vi­o­lence is no longer present in the minds of res­i­dents,” said Molly Voigt, the state leg­isla­tive man­ager for Gif­fords, an ad­vo­cacy group started by for­mer U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords, who sur­vived a 2011 as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt in Ari­zona, and her hus­band, re­tired NASA as­tro­naut Mark Kelly.

Said Sen. Mark Oben­shain, RRock­ing­ham: “[The bills] do not make Vir­gini­ans safer.”

Be­fore leg­is­la­tors could de­bate the mer­its of the gun bills, they had to first en­ter the build­ing, a task that proved time-con­sum­ing for many on Mon­day.

Cre­den­tialed lob­by­ists, me­dia and staff mem­bers who pre­vi­ously weren’t sub­ject to search now have to go through metal de­tec­tors as part of the new rules the Joint Rules Com­mit­tee ap­proved last week. Law­mak­ers are ex­empt from search.

The long lines caused by the change led House Mi­nor­ity Leader Todd Gil­bert, R-Shenan­doah, to ask Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fair­fax, to “quickly re­visit how to best im­ple­ment your new pol­icy.”

Capi­tol Po­lice spokesman Joe Ma­cenka said it is adding an “ex­press lane” in the Poc­a­hon­tas Build­ing for peo­ple with cre­den­tials from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The line is for peo­ple with no bags, he said, and they will be hand-wanded. Ma­cenka said ear­lier Mon­day that Capi­tol Po­lice are ask­ing those en­ter­ing the Poc­a­hon­tas Build­ing to “do what­ever pos­si­ble to limit the num­ber of items they bring.”

On the House floor, Del. Nick Fre­itas, R-Culpeper, ar­gued that Democrats blind­sided Repub­li­cans with a pol­icy to “dis­arm law-abid­ing ci­ti­zens.” Fre­itas chal­lenged state­ments from Demo­cratic lead­ers last week that the pol­icy came at the rec­om­men­da­tion of Capi­tol Po­lice.

“Don’t try to pass it off as it was Capi­tol Po­lice’s idea,“Fre­itas said. “Don’t try to find scape­goats.”

Del. Mar­cus Si­mon, D-Fair­fax, said in turn: “The pol­icy to ban guns from this cham­ber and from this build­ing was our idea, and we think it’s a good one.”

Even with the Capi­tol gun ban, Sen. Amanda Chase, RCh­ester­field, con­tin­ued car­ry­ing a gun Mon­day.

Last year she wore a hol­stered .38-cal­iber re­volver while pre­sent­ing her bills in the Se­nate Priv­i­leges and Elec­tions Com­mit­tee and sub­se­quently on the Se­nate floor. She called the ban in­sti­tuted last week “un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

“I’m fol­low­ing both the U.S. and Vir­ginia Con­sti­tu­tion to­day, the same one I swore to up­hold last Wed­nes­day so help me God,” she said, re­fer­ring to last week’s swear­ing-in.

It is un­clear when the full Se­nate will take up the gun con­trol bills the panel en­dorsed Mon­day.

BOB BROWN/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hamp­ton, waited to present Se­nate Bill 69, which would re­in­state the one-hand­gun-a-month law. Be­hind her, op­po­nents of gun con­trol protested bills they say limit their rights un­der the Sec­ond Amend­ment.

Vir­ginia Sec­re­tary of Pub­lic Safety and Home­land Se­cu­rity Brian Mo­ran and gun safety ad­vo­cate Lori Haas con­ferred on Mon­day.

BOB BROWN/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

New rules pro­hibit­ing guns from the Gen­eral As­sem­bly cre­ated a line as vis­i­tors were searched on Mon­day. Leg­is­la­tors are ex­empt, but oth­ers must pass through metal de­tec­tors.

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