Gov. McAuliffe announces executive action to prosecute gun crimes, enforce current laws

Courtesy of WRIC
Courtesy of WRIC (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

WRIC – RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Terry McAuliffe announced his plans to take executive action Thursday to establish a joint task force for prosecuting gun crimes and enforcing existing laws.

McAuliffe said that there's a new push to aggressively go after gun dealers who sell firearms illegally. The governor said he will authorize Attorney General Mark Herring to prosecute gun crimes, giving cases state resources.

A hotline will also be set up to give those in the Commonwealth a place to report gun crimes.

McAuliffe's executive order will also ban all firearms in all state buildings. This will not apply for law enforcement officers.

"The actions directed in this executive order will help our Commonwealth better enforce Virginia laws designed to keep guns away from people who would use them for harm," said Governor McAuliffe, in a written statement. "The task force I have convened will take tangible steps to bring more successful prosecutions of gun crimes, and the other steps outlined in the order will aid in our efforts to keep families safe from gun violence. We must continue to work to overcome political resistance to commonsense gun safety legislation, but in the mean time I am committed to using every power of my office to prevent senseless killings."

Senator Tim Kaine also spoke Thursday morning, beginning by saying that the worst day of his life would always be the massacre at Virginia Tech, in which Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at the school, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others. Kaine highlighted a professor at Tech who survived the Holocaust and died protecting his students in the April 16, 2007 shooting.

Kaine went on to say that he's concluded that the National Rifle Association (NRA) doesn't work for its members, but instead works for gun manufacturers.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun violence prevention organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, issued a statement responding to Governor McAuliffe's proposed executive action on gun violence prevention laws. It reads in full:

"In his campaign for governor, Terry McAuliffe told Virginians that if elected, he would advance commonsense policies that make their families safer from gun violence. Now, as governor, Terry McAuliffe is keeping his word and establishing himself as a true champion for common sense," said Peter Ambler, Founder and (C)(4) Director of Americans for Responsible Solutions. "Most significantly, Gov. McAuliffe is showing other governors around the country they don't have to wait on often stubborn legislatures to fill gaps in enforcement and other key areas of gun safety."

Gov. McAuliffe is ordering the following (In his own words):

Establish Joint Task Force to Prosecute Gun Crimes

There shall be established a Joint Task Force to Prosecute Gun Crimes (the "Task Force"), to be led by the Attorney General of Virginia and the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.  The Task Force shall be comprised of representatives from state and local prosecutors and law enforcement, the Virginia State Police, the Department of Criminal Justice Services, along with federal partners in order to develop strategies and coordinate efforts to strictly enforce existing gun laws under state and federal law.  Following from successful law enforcement efforts in the past, the Task Force will put special emphasis on enforcing two key protections under the law:

  • That only licensed firearms dealers engage in the business of selling firearms.
  • That persons prohibited from owning firearms are prevented from obtaining them.

The Task Force will rely principally on the investigatory powers of state and federal law enforcement agencies, in partnership with local agencies, in order to pursue effective enforcement actions, using both criminal and civil proceedings, to enforce the gun laws.

Additionally, I am asking the Task Force to identify those areas within our regulatory system that significantly hamper law enforcement's ability to effectively pursue illegal transfers of weapons and how our Commonwealth can be better situated to address these areas.

Authorize Attorney General to Coordinate and Bring Criminal Cases Against Firearms Law Offenders

In order to facilitate enforcement of the existing gun laws, I am invoking my authority under § 2.2-511 and asking the Attorney General to coordinate these prosecutorial efforts and bring such cases as he may deem most appropriate in order to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth from illegal firearms sales.  I also reserve the right to initiate any other legal proceedings that may be necessary to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth from illegal firearms sales.

Establish Tip Line for Illegal Gun Activity

The Virginia State Police coordinates the criminal background checks used by licensed firearm dealers to confirm that prohibited individuals are not able to purchase firearms.  To aid in enforcement of the gun laws already on the books, I hereby order the Virginia State Police to establish a Tip Line that will enable citizens to report violations of the gun laws and to collect a reward for any successful prosecutions flowing from the information provided.

Trace Guns Used in Crime

Gun violence occurs every day in the Commonwealth, oftentimes by individuals who should never have had a gun in the first place.  In order to aid in the Task Force's work, I hereby direct the Virginia State Police to set a policy to request tracing of every gun used in the commission of a crime in the Commonwealth, working with local and federal law enforcement to accomplish this goal.

Obtaining this information will be critical to enforcing the gun laws already on the books in Virginia.

Encourage Judges and Prosecutors to Seek Gun Forfeiture in Felony and Other Cases

Cases of domestic violence in which there is access to firearms often ends in needless tragedy.  The power to prevent gun purchases, however, is not effective when the domestic abuser or felon already has access to guns.

Accordingly, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, we will be working, through training and advocacy, to encourage prosecutors and judges to use their broad power in both criminal sentencing and in domestic violence protective orders to require persons prohibited from obtaining guns to forfeit guns they may already possess.

Banning Firearms in State Government Buildings 

We must take every precaution to protect our citizens and state employees from gun violence.  We cannot wait until a tragedy occurs to decide to address it.  Prevention requires us to address areas of concern before they are realized.  Accordingly, I hereby declare that it is the policy of the Commonwealth that open carry of firearms shall be prohibited in offices occupied by executive branch agencies, unless held by law enforcement, authorized security, or military personnel authorized to carry firearms in accordance with their duties.  Within 30 days of the date of this Executive Order, the Director of the Department of General Services (DGS) shall issue guidance prohibiting carrying weapons openly in offices occupied by executive branch agencies.

Check back for updates on this developing story.