January 24, 2020 — Giffords, the gun violence prevention organization co-founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, praised the Virginia House Public Safety Committee for approving legislation to implement universal background checks, authorize extreme risk protection orders, limit handgun purchases to one per month, compel gun owners to report lost or stolen guns, protect children from reckless storage of firearms, disarm domestic abusers, and give localities the authority to regulate firearms.
Statement from Molly Voigt, state legislative manager at Giffords:
“Delegates understand the urgent need to address America’s gun violence crisis that is hurting the communities they represent. It’s why they wasted no time in passing lifesaving legislation that can better protect Virginians. By approving today’s slate of gun safety bills, lawmakers have fulfilled yet another promise they made. We applaud the Public Safety Committee for their courage to take this step, and look forward to the entire House similarly leading on prioritizing gun safety.”
The House Public Safety Committee advanced seven of Governor Northam’s gun safety bills to the House floor:
- H.B. 2, Universal Background Checks: This bill would close the glaring loophole that allows unlicensed sellers to sell guns without background checks. This loophole allows people prohibited from possessing firearms, including felons, domestic abusers, and fugitives, to easily obtain guns: an estimated 80% of crime guns are obtained from sources not required to do background checks. Polls show about 90% of Virginians support closing this loophole as 21 other states have done. In its original form, this bill would keep guns out of dangerous hands using the State Police’s existing system, and includes exceptions for target shooting, family, and self-defense. This House version is a stronger bill than the version approved by the Senate.
- H.B. 674, Substantial Risk Orders: Virginia suffered 40 mass shooting incidents in the 4 years from 2014-2018, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and more than 6,000 people died by gun suicide in Virginia in the last decade. Mass shooters and those contemplating suicide often show warning signs. This bill would create a process to enable law enforcement officers in these situations to seek a court order, modeled on the well-recognized domestic violence protective order process. These orders would temporarily remove guns from the person in crisis, preventing suicides and mass shootings, as similar orders are already doing in 17 other states. In fact, under a similar law in Connecticut, research found that one life was saved for every 10 cases where guns were temporarily removed.
- H.B. 812, One-Gun-a-Month Limit: Gun trafficking is a major problem in Virginia. Too often, guns sold in Virginia end up in the hands of dangerous individuals, who use them in horrendous crimes. This bill will address this problem by putting a cap on bulk purchases of guns, limiting the number of guns that end up in the illegal market. This bill would reinstate a law on the books from 1993 to 2012 that imposed a modest limit by prohibiting a person from buying more than one handgun per month. The bill has particular exceptions, including one that allows a person to get a special waiver if they go through an enhanced background check.
- H.B. 412, Local Authority: Existing Virginia law deprives cities, towns, and counties of their own, independent authority to tackle gun violence through local laws. Yet, local laws play an important role in addressing gun violence, particularly gun homicides, since gun homicides tend to be concentrated in particular urban areas. This bill will give these local communities the authority to address these crises.
- H.B. 9, Reporting Lost or Stolen Firearms: Every year, hundreds of thousands of guns are lost or stolen in America, with one gun stolen from an individual owner every two minutes. Stolen guns are often diverted to the illegal gun market, where they are used to fuel crime across the country. Laws that require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to law enforcement help reduce this problem. By enacting this bill, Virginia would join the eleven other states and DC that already have such laws.
- H.B. 1009, Disarming Domestic Abusers: For the millions of American women and children affected by domestic violence every year, guns in the hands of domestic abusers pose a serious and lethal threat. In fact, when an abuser has access to a gun, a domestic violence victim is five times more likely to be killed. H.B.1004 would extend the law to prohibit people subject to protective orders against family abuse from possessing firearms and call for them to surrender their firearms when the protective order is issued.
- H.B. 463, Child Access Prevention: Improperly stored guns are the major source of weapons used in school shootings, youth suicides, and unintentional shooting deaths among children. Gun owners can prevent these tragedies through the proper storage of firearms. This bill will strengthen Virginia’s law so gun owners will keep their weapons properly locked up so that they are not accessible to unsupervised children and teenagers.