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MEMO: Virginia Republicans Repeated Blockade of Gun Safety Bills

TO: Interested Parties FROM: Giffords DATE: June 3, 2019 RE: Virginia Republicans Repeated Blockade of Gun Safety Bills

 For multiple legislative sessions, Virginia’s Republican majority has blocked action on gun safety bills that might have prevented the Virginia Beach shooting where 12 people died in a government office building last Friday. While these lawmakers have refused to take action to protect the public, gun violence has become a crisis that takes the lives of about 900 people in Virginia each year, with many more wounded. 

Republicans in the Virginia legislature are ignoring the fact that gun violence is preventable. Giffords Law Center’s annual Gun Law Scorecard shows that states that have passed evidence-based gun safety reforms have the lowest rates of gun death and injury.

Unfortunately, the Republican majority of the Virginia legislature has ignored reality by blocking over 50 gun safety bills in the past few legislative sessions alone, including legislation that could have prevented tragedies. For consecutive legislative sessions, Republican leadership in the Virginia legislature has refused to advance reasonable gun safety laws that would provide critical public safety protections to citizens of the state despite voters overwhelmingly showing support for the passage of gun safety legislation. 

Lifesaving Policies Blocked by Virginia Republicans

The legislation blocked by Virginia Republicans in 2019 included lifesaving policies such as:

  • Universal background checks (HB 2479, SB 1454, SB 1164, SB 1162) — A  universal background check law would require people to pass an instant background check in order to acquire ownership of a firearm from any seller unless they are receiving the gun as a gift from a close family member.
  • Extreme Risk Protection Order laws (SB 1458, HB 1763) — Extreme Risk Protection Order laws (ERPOs) give family members and law enforcement officers the ability to petition a court to temporarily limit a person’s access to firearms when that person poses a danger to themselves or others. If the judge concludes that the person poses a risk of violence by possessing a gun, the judge may issue a civil court order temporarily suspending the person’s access to guns.
  • Domestic Violence (SB 1467) — Stronger laws are needed to prevent guns from falling into the hands of domestic abusers and to ensure that prohibited domestic abusers relinquish their guns. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely the victim will die. Legislation Virginia enacted in 2016 prohibits a person subject to a protective order from possessing firearms if the parties had a domestic relationship, but does not provide this protection to victims of dating partner abuse or stalking, and does not ensure that armed abusers relinquish their guns.
  • Local Authority to Prohibit Firearms at Permitted Events (SB 1473, SB 1482, SB 1303) — A bill that would allow local authorities to prohibit firearms at events that require a permit could prevent everyday disagreements from escalating into deadly assaults. Counties, towns and cities in Virginia should be able to prohibit firearms at permitted events in public spaces where they increase the risk of intentional and unintentional shootings.
  • Ban on Bump Stocks (SB 1008, SB 1163) — Criminalizing the manufacture, sale, and possession of bump stocks  would help prevent these dangerous devices from being used to increase the casualties in a shooting. In 2017, a gunman used a bump stock when he opened fire from a hotel room in Las Vegas, Nevada into the 22,000 person crowd at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500. While Virginia has yet to take action, states across the country have taken meaningful and bipartisan action to ban bump stocks.
  • One Handgun a Month (SB 1034, SB 1446, HB2604) — Limiting handgun purchases to one per month to help prevent gun trafficking  by preventing purchasers from buying large numbers of handguns to resell. A 2007 University of Pennsylvania report to the National Institute of Justice found that guns purchased in bulk were up to 64% more likely to be used for illegal purposes than guns purchased individually.
  • Reporting Lost or Stolen Firearms (SB 1324, SB 1096, HB 1644) — Reporting laws protect citizens by making sure illegal firearm transfers don’t fall through the cracks. Lost and stolen reporting laws help deter straw purchasing and the illegal trafficking of firearms. Lost and stolen reporting laws also facilitate the return of the lost or stolen firearm to the lawful owner. Timely reporting to law enforcement enables police to trace guns more effectively and makes it more likely that there will be a successful prosecution of the person who stole the guns.
  • Responsible firearm storage (HB 1957, HB 2285) –  Child access prevention laws hold adults accountable for recklessly failing to secure their firearms from children. One study found that over  two-thirds of students who used guns to commit “targeted violence” against their school acquired the gun used in their attacks from their own home or that of a relative.  Another study showed that 73% of children aged nine and under reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms and 36% admitted that they had handled the weapons, including many whose parents falsely believed their children did not know the location of their firearm.

Dangerous Bills Pushed by the Majority

Meanwhile, instead of advancing public safety measures, Republicans have aligned with the gun lobby and attempted to pass dangerous bills that would make guns more available and easily accessible by dangerous people. These policies include:

  • Permitless Carry (SB 1158) — Bills allowing people who have never possessed a background check to carry hidden, loaded guns in public.
  • Guns in Places of Religious Worship (SB 1024) — Bills increasing the number of armed individuals in places of worship.

Republicans in Virginia have ignored the common sense gun safety policies that can be enacted to protect citizens of the state by coming up with excuses:

  • “It seems like we’re playing whack-a-mole,” said Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico. “Every time there’s a problem in society, we want to have a quick reaction. That’s why I say we need to stand back and see what’s going on.”
  • Del. Thomas Wright: “My heart goes out. But when it comes to the constitutional right to defend yourself and your family, that’s something that’s guaranteed.”
  • “Our goal is never to infringe on someone’s Second Amendment rights,” subcommittee member Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) said after voting down every gun safety bill in 2019. “The problem with almost every single bill we saw last night was a lot of unintended consequences.”
  • “If law-abiding gun owners weren’t convinced that liberal-leaning representatives’ only goal was to take away their firearms and the right to have them, then they might be a lot more open to ideas like that,” House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert said after the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida.

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