After months of contentious arguments on the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol, on city council daises and in campaign speeches, a slate of new state gun control laws took effect Wednesday.
The topic of gun control dominated the General Assembly’s most recent legislative session, with Democrats — newly in the majority in both chambers and armed with the support of fellow Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam — pushing through a slew of bills they said were necessary to stop violence caused by guns.
Democrat-led legislation had the backing of groups such as Moms Demand Action and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Republicans in the minority, meanwhile, voiced their opposition alongside the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group that grew by several thousand members over the course of a few months after Democrats ran a pro-gun-control campaign in November and won.
The central argument from elected Republicans and the VCDL was that bills limiting what someone could do with their gun — or how many they can buy — were unconstitutional. They also said bills aiming to put more control over guns wouldn’t stop incidents like the Virginia Beach mass shooting, where a former employee killed 12 people at a city municipal center in May 2019.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the VCDL, filed suit attempting to block two of the bills, with other lawsuits in the works, he told The Virginian-Pilot.
But the bills Democrats succeeded in passing became law Wednesday. Here’s a look at what they do:
Formerly a Virginia law from 1993 to 2012, the one-handgun-a-month proposal was brought back to life this year by Hampton legislators Sen. Mamie Locke and Del. Jeion Ward. Under the bill, buying more than one handgun in a 30-day period is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Certain people, including law enforcement officers, correctional officers, antique firearms dealers, private security companies and concealed handgun permit holders, are exempt from the purchase limitation. It doesn’t apply to private sales, either.
There’s also a way for someone to request special permission from the government to buy more than one per month if they go through an advanced background check with the Virginia State Police.
Supporters of the bill say it will cut down on people coming from out of state to purchase multiple guns, or buying them in bulk through illegal straw purchases.
The VCDL and several other gun-rights groups sued to temporarily block this bill from becoming law, but a Goochland Circuit Court judge ruled against the gun-rights groups Thursday, said the law went into effect on July 1.
Within 48 hours of discovering their firearm has been lost or stolen, a person must report it to the police, and that information will be entered in the National Crime Information Center, which is maintained by the FBI. Failing to report it could carry a civil fine of $250. Anyone who reports a lost or stolen gun won’t be held liable in court for any harm done with the gun after they lost it.
Cities and counties can restrict guns
Pitched by Newport News Del. Cia Price, the bill allows city councils and boards of supervisors to ban guns in government buildings and areas such as public parks, recreation or community centers, or outdoor areas being used during permitted events. Notices must be posted everywhere that the locality deems firearms to be prohibited.
At least one locality in the region — Hampton — is already considering passing such an ordinance.
Opponents raised concerns about the piecemeal nature of the law, saying it didn’t make sense for it to be illegal to carry a gun in one jurisdiction but not the neighboring one.
Anyone selling a gun — including through a private sale or at a gun show — must do a background check on the buyer. Any seller who doesn’t, and anyone who buys a gun without going through a background check, can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Opponents say they shouldn’t be required to do a background check if selling a gun to a family member or trusted friend, and the process will make it more expensive and difficult for firearm owners.
A lawsuit challenging the bill was filed June 22 in Lynchburg Circuit Court by the Virginia Citizens Defense League and five other plaintiffs alleges that the new law is “a grossly overreaching infringement on the right of Virginians to keep and bear arms”, the Associated Press reports.
After an investigation and at the request of a commonwealth’s attorney or a police officer who submits an affidavit, a judge or magistrate can issue a 14-day “emergency substantial risk order” and prohibit someone from having a gun if they find probable cause to believe that person is a danger to themselves or others if they have a gun.
Within 14 days, there’s a court hearing to determine if the order needs to be in place for longer. The subject of the order can ask for more time to prepare for the hearing, get a lawyer and go over any discovery while the emergency order remains in place.
At the hearing, the judge can issue a longer order — up to 180 days — if they find “clear and convincing evidence” the person is still dangerous with a gun. A commonwealth’s attorney or a police officer can also ask for the order to be extended for up to another 180 days, but that would require another hearing.
Supporters say the bill, known as a “red flag” order, helps prevent those in a mental health crisis from hurting themselves or others. Opponents are afraid it’ll be misused, and it unfairly takes guns away from people without proper due process when the person hasn’t committed a crime.
Child care facilities designated as “family day homes” must lock any firearm in a safe or cabinet during hours of operation.
The penalty for recklessly leaving a loaded firearm around children under the age of 14 is increasing from a Class 3 misdemeanor, which carries only a $500 fine, to a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries jail time.
Trigger activators, designed to make semi-automatic firearms shoot more than one shot with the pull of the trigger, are banned as of July 1, and possessing or selling one is a felony.
Gun safes that cost $1,500 or less will be exempt from retail sales tax.
People who are served with permanent protective orders must surrender their guns within 24 hours.
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