Last month’s mass shootings at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school has revived a national debate about firearms laws, but gun control legislation is meeting a familiar fate in Virginia’s House of Delegates.
A House subcommittee voted tonight to kill legislation that would expand criminal background checks for firearms transactions and ban the sale of assault firearms and large-capacity ammunition magazines in Virginia. Similar bills are scheduled to be heard Friday by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
The Republican-dominated House subcommittee deferred action on a bill (HB 2025) requiring schools to have at least one employee or volunteer to be trained to have a concealed handgun on campus. The bill sponsored by Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William County, was referred to a school safety task force appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
The House Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee met one day after President Barack Obama announced that he will ask Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and require universal background checks of gun buyers.
Some General Assembly Democrats said Virginia should not wait for federal action to pursue new gun safety laws. But, as Thursday’s House subcommittee vote demonstrated, gun control advocates face an uphill fight in a legislature that largely has resisted measures to curb access to firearms.
“The public is going to have to rise up and let their legislators know that this is important,” said House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, at a news conference hours Thursday’s subcommittee meeting.
After the 2007 mass shootings at Virginia Tech, an expert panel appointed by then-Gov. Tim Kaine recommended legislation that would require background checks for all firearms transactions, including private sales. But bills that would expand background checks to private sales at gun shows have failed in the 2008 General Assembly session and every session since.
“We’ve ignored that recommendation for 5-1/2 years,” said Lori Haas, a gun control activist whose daughter was wounded in the Tech shootings.
The subcommittee voted 5-0 Thursday killed a bill (HB 2025) sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, that would require criminal background checks for all gun sales and transfers. Opponents of the bill argued that the requirement could affect gun transfers between family members and would pose a burden for gun dealers who would run the computerized checks.
The subcommittee also defeated a bill (HB 2207) that would ban the sale of assault firearms and large capacity magazines. The bill’s sponsor, Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Henrico County, took an unloaded AK-47 onto the House floor earlier in the day to make a pitch for his bill and angered some Republicans when he displayed the weapon with his thumb on the trigger.
Del. Tommy Wright, R-Lunenburg County, the subcommittee chairman, raised concerns that the gun control bills would be a first step in a larger effort to restrict firearms rights.
“What starts out as a ban or a regulation on one firearm winds up being a ban or a regulation on all firearms, or registration and then possibly confiscation,” Wright said.
Marshall’s bill (HB 1557) to require schools to have a designated armed staff person had strong support from gun rights groups and several speakers – including two teachers — who attended the hearing in an overcrowded conference room. The bill would require the designated employee to have a concealed carry permit receive training and meet other qualifications.
But Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, asked the panel to refer the bill to McDonnell’s school safety task force. Secretary of Public Safety Marla Decker sent a letter to House Speaker Bill Howell on Thursday asking that “potential legislation” dealing with school safety be provided to the task force, which will make initial recommendations by the end of the month. Gilbert said a more thorough review could give Marshall’s bill a better chance to pass.
I think it’s going to do a disservice to your bill to shove it through here, and if you’re really concerned about getting something done for our children, this needs a larger vetting process,” Gilbert said.