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Va. Democrats give more details on gun control proposals

Hurst, Democratic leaders, push for "common-sense" measures, Republicans respond

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Democrats gave more details Monday about the specific gun-control policies they plan to bring before the General Assembly during the new session, which starts Wednesday.

Behind Gov. Ralph Northam, Democrats are making a renewed push to have these measures, many of which have been killed in previous years, get through a still-Republican-controlled Legislature.

Democratic leaders announced the findings Monday of the Safe Virginia Initiative, which involved delegates like Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, gathering input from law enforcement officers and mental health professionals at events like the one he led in Lexington this past June.

Hurst calls the suggestions “modest and common-sense proposals that will try and tangibly save lives in the commonwealth every year.”

The proposals align in many ways with the ones Northam is backing. Below is a rundown of many of the suggestions Democrats are making.

Extreme risk protective orders: If a court issues one, it would allow officers to take guns from someone thought to be a danger to themselves or others. It aims to help prevent suicide and domestic gun violence. 13 states have passed a law like this one.

Reducing repeat domestic violence: One suggestion is to make anyone with a protective order against them for family abuse unable to have a gun. People in these circumstances already cannot buy or transport a gun.

Democrats said these measures have backing from many law enforcement leaders.

“We need to do a better job of getting guns out of the hands of men who abuse women,” Hurst said.

Republican Delegate Chris Head, R-Botetourt, said he has reservations and needs to hear more details on the plans.

“I have a real hard time first and foremost with depriving anyone of their rights without due process,” Head said.

Assault weapons ban: Democrats are again putting forward a ban on assault weapons, which they define as any gun that has more than 10 rounds of ammo. No one would be able to possess or buy them in Virginia.

Head doesn’t support the ban.

“That’s just idiotic,” he said. “That demonstrates that you don’t know what you’re talking about with weapons.”

Universal background checks: This proposal would mean background checks will be needed in private sales, including online sales. Democrats said this will close a “significant loophole in Virginia law” and most Virginians favor it. 20 states have a similar law in place.

Hurst said one way to accomplish this to have sellers go to a licensed gun dealer and have the store run the check.

“The processes that we have in place to do a background check work pretty darn well, especially in Virginia with the way that state police regulate it,” Hurst said.

Head is worried about how officers would get people to comply.

“How in the world are you going to enforce a background check on that if somebody wants to buy a gun from their neighbor?” Head said.

Limiting purchases: This proposal would reinstate the “one handgun a month” law. Virginia is a “supplier state,” according to many reports, and Democrats are aiming to cut down on the reported pipeline of guns leaving Virginia, many of which are later involved in crimes.

Other proposals:

Gun owners would have to report lost or stolen guns within 24 hours of finding out

A proposal would increase the penalty for leaving unsecured guns around children under the age of 18.

Another suggestion is to repeal the law allowing for video training for concealed handgun permits.

Head and Republican leaders have said the focus should not be on guns.

“We do not have a gun problem in the country. We have a mental health problem in this country,” Head said.

Hurst said the pressure is on Republicans, not his fellow Democrats, to get bills like these passed.

“They’re going to need to decide what it is chiefly that they want to accomplish,” Hurst said of Republicans. “Do they want to accomplish a partisan agenda, or do they actually want to protect the safety and well-being of Virginians here in the commonwealth?”

Republicans have said they plan on introducing bills to improve school safety standards that don’t involve gun control measures.