January 22, 2020 — Giffords, the gun violence prevention organization co-founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, applauded the Virginia Senate for passing legislation to strengthen background checks, implement an extreme risk protection order, limit handgun purchases to one per month, and give localities the authority to regulate firearms.
Statement from Molly Voigt, state legislative manager at Giffords:
“Virginia’s gun safety majority wasted no time to pass lifesaving legislation. With a mandate from voters to move quickly Senators recognize that every day without action means more shootings and more violence. We thank the leaders in the Senate for prioritizing these commonsense bills, and urge the House to show the same urgency to get legislation to Governor Northam’s desk.”
The Senate advanced four gun safety bills in the past week:
- S.B. 70 – 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. The House should pass the universal background checks bill as originally drafted, which was a stronger version.
- S.B. 240 – 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.
- S.B. 69 – 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.
- S.B. 35 – 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 and regulations play an important role in reducing the risk of gun violence. This bill would allow localities to prohibit firearms in government buildings, parks, and public spaces during events that require a local permit. Guns are sometimes used to intimidate, as undoubtedly occurred in Charlottesville in 2017, and the presence of guns may stifle the free and open expression of ideas. Allowing local governments to limit guns in these locations may prevent volatile situations from escalating into true violence.