Virginia to abolish handgun permit pact

An announcement by Attorney General Mark Herring Tuesday that the state will scrap an agreement with 25 other states to recognize concealed handgun permits they have issued drew swift criticism from local lawmakers.

Herring, a Democrat, stated in a written statement that the reciprocity agreements will be revoked, effective Feb. 1. He criticized the reciprocity states for laws too weak to stop someone who is disqualified from obtaining a handgun permit in Virginia from receiving one in another state, which would effectively override Virginia’s tougher eligibility requirements.

Herring cited a long list of disqualifiers that he said are contained in Virginia law. They include people subject to a protective order, and those convicted of stalking or who have been found legally incompetent, mentally incapacitated or not guilty by reason of insanity.

Herring stated the state’s action will not affect its reciprocity agreement with West Virginia, one of only five such states deemed to have standards for a handgun permit that meet or exceed those of Virginia. Reciprocity agreements with Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Michigan will also remain in effect.

“Virginia and nearly every other state in the country have recognized that carrying a concealed handgun is a significant responsibility that should be extended only to those who have gone through a process to prove a level of competency and responsibility,” Herring stated. “The standards for proving competency and responsibility are up to each state, and the General Assembly has established Virginia’s standards for whom it considers capable of safely carrying a concealed handgun. Those standards should be applied, evenly, consistently and fairly to anyone who wants to lawfully conceal a handgun in Virginia.”

Herring added that eliminating the reciprocity agreements with states whose standards for carrying a concealed handgun undermine those of Virginia “is a commonsense step that can help make Virginians and our law enforcement officers safer by ensuring that our concealed carry laws and safety standards apply to everyone in Virginia, whether they are a resident or a visitor.”

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, denounced Herring’s action as “endangering the lives of law abiding Virginians as they travel to work, vacation and visit families in other states.”

Gilbert said law enforcement officials in other states may now choose to reject handgun permits carried by Virginians and covered by the reciprocity agreement.

State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, also condemned Herring for what he called “a unilateral, politically motivated executive action that seriously limits the rights of those Virginians who have concealed weapon permits.”

“In his announcement, the Attorney General has not pointed to a single crime committed by an out-of-state concealed weapons permit holder legally carrying in Virginia under the reciprocity agreement; not one,” Obenshain said, adding that the state police said that they are not aware of any such cases either.

“It is evident that this is nothing more than liberal window dressing and political payback for the millions of dollars former New York Mayor (Michael) Bloomburg has pumped into the campaigns of Virginia Democrats, including that of the Attorney General, over the past 2½ years,” Obenshain stated in a statement.

State Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, said she had worked with Herring when he was a member of the Senate, and his controversial actions pertaining to gun laws and other social issues have come as a surprise to her.

“I can tell you that law abiding concealed carry permit holders are very offended by this and have been calling my office all day long,” Vogel said of Herring’s announcement.

The states whose handgun permits will soon be invalid in Virginia are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Wisconsin, Washington, Delaware and Minnesota already do not recognize concealed carry permits from Virginia. Louisiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, North Dakota and Wyoming will no longer do so once the reciprocity agreement is no longer in effect.

Gilbert, who is deputy majority leader in the House of Delegates, said he expects the end of the reciprocity agreements will prompt fellow lawmakers to revive past legislative proposals that would recognize concealed handgun permits issued in all other states.

Gilbert admitted that such a proposal, if passed, is likely to face a veto by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who has been a staunch supporter of gun control measures.

“Hopefully we can overcome those vetoes,” Gilbert said. “I don’t know if that’s possible but you never know until you try.”

Lori Haas, state director for the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, welcomed Herring’s announcement as a long overdue step.

“I would just say that given how clearly the law is written in Virginia, I’m surprised that previous administrations issued those reciprocity agreements in the first place,” Haas said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.co,