Four gun control bills move forward in Virginia Senate

Fiery debate from lawmakers, citizens during busy day at Capitol

RICHMOND, Va. – Proposals for stricter gun laws quickly moved forward in the Virginia legislature on Monday.

The Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee sent four gun control bills to the Senate floor.

They include:

  • A limit of one handgun purchase per month.
  • Expanded background checks to include private sales.
  • The ability for localities to ban guns in public spaces, including government buildings.
  • A Red Flag law, which gives law enforcement officers the ability to seize guns from people determined to be at risk of hurting themselves or others.

There were passionate comments from dozens of gun rights supporters in the committee meeting and in a press conference held by NRA members near the Capitol.

Discussion about a Red Flag law, also called an Extreme Risk Protection Order, sparked the most heated debate.

In pushing for the bill, Democrats and gun control advocates said it sets a high bar for the evidence needed for officers to get a search warrant. Language includes a requirement of “clear and convincing evidence.” They said the measure will help prevent suicides and other shootings.

“On average, one Virginia resident dies by gun suicide every 14 hours,” said one Moms Demand Action member.

Gun rights supporters fired back, speaking directly to lawmakers, arguing that it’s unlawful for officers to be able to search a house without an accusation of a crime.

“This kind of falls under, ‘I hate gun owners,’ this whole group of bills, really,” one gun rights supporter said.

They believe it takes away due process and violates privacy.

“I oppose this bill. It’s straight-up gun confiscation. It is unconstitutional and we will not stand for it,” a Lynchburg resident said before smacking the table in front of him.

Virginians shared personal stories to show why they think these new gun laws would hurt their ability to protect themselves.

A Franklin County man argued that lawmakers should not further restrict access to certain weapons.

“I want to make sure my wife and my sister are able to protect themselves by whatever means necessary,” said Andrew Whiting in a statement that drew applause from some in the crowd.

A Virginia woman shared a story of a day that changed her life forever. She said if she hadn’t been in a gun-free zone when she was raped, she would have had a gun, which could have prevented the rape.

“Making it harder and more expensive for me to defend myself is not common sense,” said Savannah Lindquist, drawing more applause from the audience.

Democrats have showed signs of not being fully united behind the push for each new gun law. Sen. Joe Morrissey, who represents Chesterfield County, expressed some concern over the Red Flag law.

“It needs some work,” Morrissey said, though he did vote to move the bill forward to the Senate floor.

In fact, votes for each measure in the Senate committee were along party lines Monday.

The actions Monday showed which specifics would be included in bills moving forward. For instance, the bill to expand background checks would make an infraction a Class 1 misdemeanor. Others deemed the punishment a felony.

The bill to allow localities to ban guns in public spaces includes government buildings and areas like parks. Leaders in the city of Roanoke have pushed for expanded measures like this.

The bills’ movement shows that Democrats are serious about moving quickly on gun issues, something they promised to do when they won control of both houses of the legislature in November.

There are more than 40 gun control bills filed in the General Assembly.