The House of Delegates passed a bill to repeal the 2020 law authorizing localities to ban firearms on locality property. Delegates debated the bill on Wednesday before the vote Thursday.
“House Bill 827 returns our code back to its prior position,” Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Rockingham) said on Wednesday. “Other portions of the bill: it eliminates the requirement to destroy firearms that are confiscated and rather allows them to be offered for sale through a licensed dealer. And it also limits the ability of localities to sue firearm manufacturers.”
Gun rights advocates have criticized the bill in part because it creates varying local laws that could criminalize someone who unintentionally crosses jurisdictions and violates the law.
Delegate Tim Anderson (R-Virginia Beach) said, “You take away somebody’s right to defend themselves when you take away the right to have a firearm. And if you’re going to do that, if you’re going to take that right that I have away from me, than the duty shifts to the government to provide that protection.”
Delegate Marcia Price (D-Newport News) sponsored the 2020 bill. She spoke against HB 827 and explained the intent of her original bill.
“This bill originated as a workplace safety bill. We all know, for those that have loved ones in local government, or have worked in it, when someone comes to City Hall, they’re usually not coming to say, ‘Thank you for the wonderful work you’re doing.’ It is usually because they have a very contentious issue. And for those that work in local government, for them to be able to deal with the public on contentious issues, it is important for them to feel safe as well. And so if you’re coming to argue with someone with a firearm on your hip, it changes the dynamics of a conversation,” she said.
“If you’re coming to a city council meeting to argue for your points where there already is law enforcement present, it just does not make sense to me that it’s a conversation now about safety. It is a conversation about intimidation in the workplace, and that is what that bill was addressing,” Price said.
HB 827 passed 52 to 48. It now heads to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where the Judiciary Committee has already killed three similar bills. House Republicans are also advancing other pro-gun legislation that is likely doomed in the Senate. The House Public Safety subcommittee advanced multiple Republican-sponsored bills, including Anderson’s HB 11 to limit the penalties for carrying a concealed handgun without a permit and incentivize violators to get a permit. The subcommittee also killed some Democratic bills, including Delegate Marcus Simon’s (D-Fairfax) HB 399, which would make it a Class Five felony to manufacture, import, transfer, or possess firearms that are undetectable by metal detectors.
Simon and pro-gun organization the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) found surprising common ground on Simon’s HB 1306, which passed out of the subcommittee with bipartisan support, although three Republicans opposed it. The bill adjusts Virginia law banning attempts to remove a firearm serial number, and protects people from accidentally being charged with defacing a serial number.
“It’s already been unlawful, this just rearranges the language, to remove, alter, change, destroy, or obliterate in any manner or way a serial number that federal law requires to be on a firearm,” Simon explained.
“This is not meant to be a trap for somebody that doesn’t know, or a serial number that gets scratched or defaced. We took that word out of the statute, ‘deface,’ because that could happen potentially without somebody’s knowledge,” Simon said. “You’d have to prove intent, knowledge.”
VCDL President Philip Van Cleave said his organization’s support for a bill introduced by Simon was a “rare coming together of stars,” and that Simon responded to a request from the VCDL to include the wording change to protect people who accidentally scratch the serial number.
“Everybody kind of laughed at it, but my argument is, give us a good bill that doesn’t penalize law-abiding people, and we stand with you. But all these other bills we’ve spoken against, including his, penalize good people,” Van Cleave told The Star. “Go after criminals, we’re fine. Go after good people, no. We’re not fine.”
The VCDL is maintaining a list of gun-related legislation, and more bills are going to be heard next week. After that, House-passed bills will be considered in the Senate committee, and vice versa.
The key problem facing Republicans is that although only one Democrat needs to vote with Republicans to pass legislation on the floor, the Senate committees have a higher proportion of Democrats. As a result, even if one Democrat defects on a bill, there are enough other Democratic senators in the committees to block legislation from getting to the Senate floor.
Although the Senate is controlled by Democrats, Van Cleave said there are five Democratic senators who occasionally vote pro-gun: Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), Senator Lynwood Lewis, Jr. (D-Accomack), Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) and Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond). Petersen and Morrissey sit on the Judiciary Committee co-chaired by Edwards and Deeds; the committee’s responsibilities include evaluating some gun legislation.
“We just have to get two of them to vote right at the same time to get it out of committee,” Van Cleave said.
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Tony Wilt” by Tony Wilt. Photo “Tim Anderson” by Tim Anderson. Background Photo “House of Delegates Floor” by Antony-22. CC BY-SA 4.0.