One day after 22,000 people poured into Richmond, mostly to show opposition to a gun-control agenda that led Democrats to victory in November, the new party in power killed a handful of Republican-sponsored bills that would fire back at stricter gun laws.
The subcommittee on firearms in the House, a subset of the public safety committee, filled its agenda with Republican-sponsored bills Tuesday morning, striking all 11 down. Members of the subcommittee voted to lay the bills on the table, holding them in place, effectively keeping them from making it out to the floor.
On the same day, Senate members overhauled a “red flag” law that would keep people who are deemed dangerous to themselves or others from obtaining or possessing firearms. Senate Bill 240 includes robust language that lays out substantial risk orders —the legal designation placed that would restrict someone’s rights to own or obtain a gun — and includes sunset periods on the orders.
Three of the bills that were killed Tuesday addressed the same issue, repealing a section of Virginia’s code that makes carrying a weapon into a place of worship “without good and sufficient reason” a class 4 misdemeanor.
Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, wrote in an email Tuesday that the current code, with its clause of “good and sufficient reason” is, “written so poorly that it is probably unenforceable.”
“It says you cannot carry a gun in church unless you have a good reason but does not define what a good reason may be,” he continued. “In the past, the Attorney General has issued an opinion that self defense is a good reason. This has not been litigated in court, but I think it would be very difficult to prosecute a case given the wording of the code.”
Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton, and Cole introduced House Bill 1485, which would have prevented localities from adopting or enforcing workplace rules that prevented people who have concealed carry permits from bringing their weapons to work. The bill was laid on the table with a 5-3 vote.
A similar bill introduced by Cole, and three senators would have allowed employees of “any agency of the Commonwealth or a political subdivision thereof” who have a concealed carry permit to take their handguns with them to work.
Cole’s bill did include an exemption if the workplace had its own armed security force — the same safety measures taken by the General Assembly, he wrote.
“If a state agency or local government does not allow employees with concealed carry permits to carry at work they would be required to provide armed security for the employees,“ he wrote. “If this had been law before, perhaps the Virginia Beach murders could have been prevented!”
House Bill 1471 would have covered hunters who cross locality boundaries while hunting from being charged with stricter gun possession laws in the second locality.
Sitting alongside the bills that would have ensured people who have their concealed carry permits to possess their firearms, Republicans also sponsored a bill that would have levied harsher penalties for using a firearm during a crime. House Bill 1175 would have increased the mandatory minimum for using a firearm while committing a felony from three to five years for the first offense and five to 10 years for a second offense.
On the House floor Tuesday, Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, questioned Democrats’ commitment to fighting violent gun crime following the party-line vote killing the bill.
“That bill was summarily defeated in the public safety subcommittee,” he said. “A bill that despite all of the calls for addressing gun violence is aimed specifically at people committing violence with a gun was killed in short order.”
Reports of a spat between Republican and Democratic members of the subcommittee on firearms surfaced online where Republicans complained their bills were not given much discussion before they were voted down. Democrats responded with language levied against them by Gilbert last week — saying they were told that work wasn’t happening fast enough.
In a phone call Tuesday evening, Gilbert said he wasn’t present for that exchange but said he hoped Democrats would rely on protocols and tradition to get work done.
Gilbert acknowledged Republicans made short order of Democratic gun-control bills in recent years, dispatching them to subcommittees and putting an end to them before they could get moving.
“The complaint we heard was that there was no discussion whatsoever and taking limited testimony,” he said. “We hope that they will continue to observe the traditional protocols of how bills are considered and not deviate from that.”