Loudoun County Sheriff Michael L. Chapman has said he opposes the “red flag” gun safety law moving through the state General Assembly now.
County supervisors on Tuesday got a report on laws creating emergency threat orders of protection, or red flag laws, that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. They had requested a review of the laws in September, deciding at the time not to take a formal position on the laws—a state-level debate—until seeing more information.
Since then, two similar but slightly edited versions of the same bill have been working their way through the General Assembly.
Both create a procedure for an attorney or law-enforcement officer to apply to a judge or magistrate for an emergency order to remove guns from a person deemed to pose a substantial risk to themselves or others. The emergency substantial risk order, if issued, expires after 14 days, and a Circuit Court hearing is required in that time to determine whether a longer-term order should be issued.
The seized weapons would be held by law enforcement or, with a judge’s approval, a third party chosen by the owner. People who violate the order by possessing a gun can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, and a person who knowingly transfers a weapon to a person under one of those orders would commit a Class 4 felony.
The House of Delegates version of the bill, House Bill 674, was approved a 52-46 vote and sent to the Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary for review. But the previously identical Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 240, was edited in that committee. It now also requires requests by two law enforcement officers rather than one, an affidavit, and consultation with the Commonwealth’s Attorney. That bill passed the Senate 21-19. The two chambers, if they are to pass a bill, must resolve the differences between them or drop one.
Supervisors had voted to wait for input from the Virginia Crime Commission, but that report had few answers. The Crime Commission’s “Report on Mass Killing and Gun Violence” found “inconclusive evidence exists to develop recommendations.”
“While staff researched a wide variety of policies and many other matters related to gun violence, the overall findings from the research were often insufficient, mixed, contradictory, or based on limited methodology,” the commission wrote in its summary report. “The absence of recommendations should not be interpreted as a finding that no changes to Virginia’s laws are necessary. Any changes to these laws are policy decisions which can only be made by the General Assembly.”
But the Sheriff’s Office had a stance ready on Tuesday, opposing red flag legislation and noting that law enforcement already has the authority to arrest someone using on an Emergency Custody Order, or based on their own judgment that a person may be a danger.
“The Loudoun County Sheriff is also concerned that this legislation unfairly compels law enforcement to remove weapons when no criminal violation exists, and can be based on mere accusation, observation or interpretation by a third party,” according to a statement provided to county staff members for their report to supervisors, adding that “these bills would compound what are already dangerous situations for deputies and officers, and would place a heavy burden and high level of accountability on law enforcement who are not psychiatrists, psychologists, or mental health professionals.”
“Essentially his bill is going to take away someone’s constitutional right on a civil proceeding,” said Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin).
Randall also expressed concern that there is no requirement to consult mental health professionals under the bill’s language.
The report was presented as an informational item; supervisors took no action.
This article was updated Feb. 6 at 12:14 p.m. with comment from supervisors.