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Virginia lawmakers say they have a deal on ‘red flag’ law that will allow guns to be taken temporarily from people deemed dangerous

Gun rights protestors chant "We will not comply" as they gather on Bank Street outside the Virginia state capitol Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. (Rob Ostermaier/The Virginian-Pilot/TNS)
February 27, 2020

Key state lawmakers have come to a consensus on a bill that allows police to temporarily seize guns from people deemed by a judge a risk to themselves or others.

The lawmakers sponsoring the Senate and House versions of an extreme risk protection order, also known as the “red flag” law, have come to an agreement, which largely reflects the Senate’s version.

The bill has been heavily debated in both chambers and is part of a package of gun control legislation backed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam that has dominated much of the session. Most of the bills have advanced in some form in both chambers.

Sen. George Barker, a Democrat from Fairfax County who is sponsoring the Senate version, said at a House Public Safety committee meeting Friday he and the House patron, Democratic Del. Rip Sullivan, have agreed on Barker’s version, with a few tweaks. The bill passed out of a House committee Friday, and a Senate committee will take up Sullivan’s version, which will be identical to Barker’s, next week. Sullivan confirmed the House and Senate are in agreement.

The bill would require a commonwealth’s attorney or police officer to ask a judge or magistrate to issue an emergency risk protection order after they do an investigation.

Once the order is issued, police have to first give the person the opportunity to voluntarily give up their guns. If they don’t, police have to get a search warrant and come back for the guns.

It’s a change from the original House version, where the search warrant was served at the same time as the risk order. Barker said the change quelled some senators’ concerns about police seizing items other than guns in someone’s home if the warrant is delivered immediately.

After 14 days, the person under the order gets a hearing to determine if their guns will be kept for longer, though they can ask for a delayed hearing if they need more time to prepare a defense.

“There are a lot of protections that are built into this,” Barker said.

Republicans opposed the bill, voicing concerns about people not being able to defend themselves in their homes for 14 days while they wait for the hearing to occur.

Democrats say it’s a way to reduce suicide and help people who are mentally ill. The Virginia Department of Health has said two-thirds of gun deaths in the state are suicides.

Barker said he’s confident this version will pass the House and head to Northam’s desk. The Northam administration has said they’ll support it.


© 2020 The Virginian-Pilot

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