One of the most heated debates in the General Assembly—and among local legislators—will be over gun rights and safety.
Sen. Richard H. Black (R-13) has introduced SB 48, which would eliminate the need for a concealed carry permit. Under the bill’s revision to Virginia law, any person who is otherwise eligible for a concealed carry permit could carry a handgun out of site without a permit anywhere that a person could carry a handgun openly.
“This is what’s known as constitutional carry, and it’s referred to as that because the Second Amendment grants people the right to keep and bear arms,” Black said. “The fact is that it is a personal right and it’s something that the individual should be able to exercise without the permission of the government.”
People who cannot now obtain a concealed carry permit—such as convicted felons and people who have been hospitalized for mental illness—would still be prohibited from carrying a concealed weapon. The bill still allows for concealed carry permits, which Black noted are necessary for Virginia’s concealed carry permit reciprocity agreements with other states.
By contrast, Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-31), Del. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-86), and Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34) have signed on to bills tightening rules on issuing concealed carry permits.
Favola has introduced (and Murphy has signed on to) SB 156, which would allow family members who reside with an applicant for a concealed carry permit to submit an affidavit to the court that the applicant is likely to use the weapon unlawfully or is mentally unwell.
Currently, applications for concealed carry permits are confidential—meaning family members are not necessarily notified when someone applies for a permit.
“A family member would have to proactively send a letter to the court on the chance that a loved one may be applying for a permit,” Favola said. She said the bill is “not the panacea” but helps address the high bar that is required to disqualify a person on grounds of mental health.
Both SB 48 and SB 156 have been referred to the Senate Committee on Courts of Justice.
Favola, Boysko, and Murphy have also signed on to Falls Church Del. Marcus B. Simon’s (D-53) HB 149, which prohibits people on the federal Terrorist Screening Database from obtaining a concealed handgun permit. Favola and Boysko both said the benefits outweigh the risk of wrongly blocking a person from getting a concealed carry permit.
“There’s always a slight danger of false positives in any of these lists, but that doesn’t outweigh the need to have the list,” Favola said. “Probably 99 percent of the people on the list are really dangerous.”
“Maybe we need to go back and look at how we’re putting the terrorist list together, but if someone has raised suspicion enough, I don’t want to have another San Bernardino situation,” agreed Boysko.
Black also has signed onto Manassas Del. Robert G. Marshall’s (R-13) HB 83, which would forbid Virginia and local law enforcement agencies from helping enforce federal firearms laws taking effect from December 1, 2015, onward. Black said the bill is in direct response to President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on gun control, and effectively hamstrings enforcement of those regulations in Virginia.
“The U.S. attorney has limited manpower,” Black said. “They typically are fairly stretched to try to keep up with important case law and prosecuting really major criminals, major drug transactions, and things of that sort.”
Delegate Dave A. LaRock (R-33), of Hamilton, has also introduced two bills and signed onto another expanding gun rights. LaRock’s HB 273 would reduce the requirements for purchasing a firearm to require only one photo ID.
“I think a driver’s license is a fairly sophisticated form of identification now,” he said. “Certainly it’s very difficult to produce a forgery of, and so they should be very adequate for establishing someone’s identity for a firearms purchase.”
HB 260 would require the local chief law enforcement officer 60 days to decide on certifying the transfer of firearms such as machine guns, short-barrel rifles, short-barrel shotguns, and silencers.
Some chief law enforcement officers choose not to act on an application, stalling it indefinitely, LaRock said. “And because the applicant is supposed to apply in the jurisdiction in which they reside, then they’re just kind of locked out of the process. This bill just compels the chief law enforcement officers to act. It doesn’t tell them they have to say yes or no.”
HB 83, HB 149, HB 260, and HB 273 have been referred to the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.